Every now and then a new buzzword becomes all the rage and the latest is, without a doubt, mindfulness. It’s claimed that being mindful can help in the workplace, with depression, weight loss and parenting – pretty much every aspect of modern life. It’s even now been endorsed by the NHS.
But can ‘paying attention’ really change your life, or is this just another passing fad? We asked psychotherapist and director of the Work Life Balance Centre, Julie Hurst, to give us the low-down on mindfulness and whether we should all be giving it a go.
- What exactly is mindfulness?
It’s a great way of building a brilliant brain. One that is calmer, more focused, less stressed and more contented. It improves your mood, and your health as it can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure and can even be used to help manage your weight.
At its heart is the fact that our brain is designed to support us as it did when we lived in caves. It was good at detecting a possible threat from a predator and sent signals to our bodies to run away or fight. It still is great at detecting possible threats, but doesn’t react to emails, meetings, traffic jams, the school run, and overcrowded schedules in the same way.
We no longer fight our way out of trouble, so the chemicals that once kept us safe, are now making us ill. Mindfulness gives us a way of switching off the alarm klaxon, and experiencing life
- What’s involved in being mindful?
In practice it involves paying attention to something in minute detail so your mind has a chance to rest. It could be something you see, hear, smell, taste or most commonly, your own breathing. Just pausing to notice your breathing for a few moments can have a noticeable effect. At first you may find it is hard for your mind to stop whirling away on your mental ‘to do list’, and that’s okay. It’s what your mind is used to, but with a bit of persistence and practice you can learn to bring your mind and body together – in the same place at the same time – and just breathe.
- Why is it so popular right now?
There has been a lot of research into mindfulness and the amount of scientific evidence about how effective it is, is really growing. Not only do we now know it works, but it’s easy to learn, doesn’t need any expensive equipment, can be done anywhere, and can be fun. A number of high profile people have spoken about how effective it has been for them.
- Why is mindfulness important to women?
It’s very easy to end up frazzled and worn down by the competing demands of home, children and work. Women are guilty of putting others first, and themselves last. They end up with tired bodies and overactive minds, moving from one thing to the next, without pausing for breath. Mindfulness provides a simple, effective way to move from feeling bad, to feeling good, to then feeling great. And it doesn’t take up too much time.
- What can mindfulness really help with?
Mindful can help anxiety, stress, depression and irritability and reducing pain, improving
memory, creativity, attention span and reaction speeds. It also enhances brain function, increases grey matter in areas associated with self-awareness, empathy, self-control and attention, plus it improves the immune system, improves heart and circulatory health by reducing blood pressure and lowering the risk of hypertension… phew!
5 ways you can be more mindful today…
- Start small: It can feel overwhelming to think about devoting 40 minutes a day to meditation, or sometimes even 10. So don’t put yourself off before you even begin. Everyone has one minute, so start there. Commit to spending one minute every day being mindful of your breathing. Once you start it’s amazing how quickly you’ll want that to become two minutes, or three or more.
- Involve your children or a friend: Mindfulness is not necessarily a solitary thing, it’s also about connection. There are many classes available all around the country, and joining one can be fun. Or you could arrange to meditate with a friend. There are many mindfulness exercises suitable for you to do with your children. They are often fun as well as effective, and will do you both good.
- Decide you are worth it: It’s easy for women to end up constantly putting themselves at the bottom of the list. Everyone else’s needs come first. But in reality if lots of people need you, then you need to be at your best. Decide to make an investment in yourself. What would your best friend think about you taking care of yourself? Would they think you’re worth the effort? Then become your own best friend and treat yourself with some kindness and care.
- Develop a habit: If you can get into a routine with your mindfulness it helps. Picking the same time every day is a good way to do this. You can also give yourself reminders. Set an alarm on your phone or put a sticky note where you’ll see it. Try out a mindfulness app – there are many free ones around. Make it easy to develop the mindfulness habit and it changes from something you do, to who you are.
- Everyday things: It’s good to get practice in mindfulness, to build up your mindful muscle in the same way you’d train a physical muscle, but you don’t have to always sit with your eyes closed to meditate. You could do the things you normally do – just mindfully. For example, cleaning your teeth, making a cup of coffee, walking, taking a shower, eating and definitely driving. If we all drove more mindfully the roads would be a safer place.
- Julie Hurst is a mindfulness practitioner and teacher and Director of Work Life Balance Centre. For more information visit: worklifebalancecentre.org