In our last blog post, we discussed how practicing mindfulness can improve our mental health and overall quality of life. We provided our readers with a few introductory resources they could use to learn more about mindfulness and how to improve awareness, but we thought it would be a good idea to return to the subject, and suggest a few of our favourite exercises we partake in on a regular basis to be more mindful.
Recap: What is mindfulness?
Let’s quickly explain what mindfulness is, just in case you missed our previous article or you need a refresher. Many of us lead extremely busy lives - whether that be through work or looking after our families - and this means we live our lives on autopilot. Mindfulness, or, the act of ‘being mindful’ is when you take some time out of your day to consciously make yourself present.
Even if it’s just taking five minutes out of your day, being mindful allows us to give ourselves some needed TLC and helps us understand ourselves better. We can take the things we learn from our periods of mindfulness and make changes to improve our lives. Being mindful also gives us a chance to take stock and ‘reset’ before returning to our day.
We’ll begin with perhaps the most well-know and most accessible exercise in mindfulness - breathing! There is a good reason why when we’re feeling anxious, panicked or stressed it as advised to focus on our breathing. Slow, deep breathing tells your brain to calm down and relax, and your brain will then pass that message on to your body which can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, and calm those racing thoughts.
However, we do not need to feel anxious or stressed in order to feel the benefits of mindful breathing. By taking a few moments out of our day to switch off everything external and shift our attention entirely to the rhythm and flow of our breathing, we can help put our thoughts and feelings into perspective and carry this knowledge through to our everyday lives.
Mindful breathing is simple, and it can be done absolutely anywhere. To begin, sit up straight, or if seating isn’t available, you can stand. Close your eyes, inhale, and count to three. The trick to breathing mindfully is to try and focus entirely on the sensation of your breath - how it feels as it enters your mouth and as it fills your belly. If any thoughts pop into your head, acknowledge them and let them drift away - always try to shift your focus back to your breathing.
Hold your breath for five seconds, and slowly exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat this process 5-10 times, solely focussing on the sensations of your breath moving through your body. If you can train yourself to simply acknowledge your thoughts as they pop onto your head, rather than attach an emotional response to them, you can use this skill in everyday life, even when you’re not being purposefully mindful.
If you can master this then you are well on your way to being able to meditate! Why not give it a try now?
- Breathe in for 5 seconds
- Hold for 5 seconds
- Exhale slowly for 5 seconds
- Repeat 10 times
Remember: Whenever your mind wanders, return your attention to the sensation of your breathing.
Going for a walk can be a great way to calm your mind. Walking enables you to breathe in some fresh air, immerse yourself in nature, and get a bit of exercise. Daily walking is a great habit to get into, but why not try being mindful while you are walking?
The trick to mindful walking is to begin by only focussing your attention on your movements. If your mind wanders, make a conscious effort to bring you attention back to your walking - the same way you would try to focus on breathing during meditation. Focus your awareness on each leg as your knees bend with movement; to each foot as it touches the ground. Pay attention to the way your arms move as you walk, noting any sensations present in each part of your body as you walk:
Important: If you are outdoors - especially near roads or in another space with potential hazards - it’s important to be aware of your general surroundings. Mindful walking is best practiced somewhere quiet and safe, such as a field.
After a predetermined condition is met, such as an allotted amount of time or number of steps, shift your awareness to either sight, smell, or sound. Focus on one of these only. If you choose smell, for example, focus on what the smell is, and how it makes you feel. Is it pleasant? Does it remind you of anything?
Once you have spent the same amount of time/walked the same number of steps as you did for the previous step, move on to the next sense, and then the next.
When you have individually focussed on each sense, bring everything together in the final stage of the practise. Try to make yourself aware of your body, your vision, your scent, and sounds all at the same time.
In this moment, you are simply present. Try to ignore any worries or thoughts about anything outside of this moment. There is nothing to do or worry about, you are simply enjoying everything around you; the world’s simple pleasures.
So, to recap the 5 stages of mindful walking:
- Awareness of body
- Awareness of sight
- Awareness of sounds
- Awareness of smells
- Awareness of everything
And remember, steps 2-4 can be done in any order!
This one is a little different, but hear us out! Eating is like many things in life - when we do it, we often do it on autopilot. We eat at set times because it’s the social norm to do so, and oftentimes we eat on the go without using the time to be mindful. We might eat while watching television or even doing household chores. We eat when we’re not hungry, we eat when we’re bored.
So, why not try a bit of mindful eating? Granted, if you live a busy life, or have children to think about, this won’t always be possible. But even if you get to do it once a week on your lunch break, you might find that it helps.
As with all the techniques we are discussing today, mindful eating is about shifting awareness to your body, and grounding yourself in the present moment. So, before you even begin to eat, you should ask yourself: am I hungry? This step is extremely important as it’s your first act of mindfulness towards your food. We should only sit down to eat if we’re actually hungry or low on energy; not simply because we are bored, sad, or procrastinating. This is a simple process, but it is designed to train us to listen to our bodies’ needs, rather than just eating for the sake of it.
If you are hungry, then it is time to prepare your food. As we prepare our food - even if it is simply unwrapping something prepared rather than cooking from scratch - be mindful of what you are doing. How does the chopping feel? What sounds do the ingredients make as you cook them? What do they smell like? Give yourself to the moment.
Extend this sense of awareness to when you sit down to eat your food. So often we eat in a hurry, not fully tasting or appreciating the food in front of us. Savour every bite, reflect on how it tastes. Consider the texture and how the food feels as it touches your tongue and teeth. Chew slowly and rest for a few moments after each mouthful, allowing your food to digest properly. If you are eating with a knife and fork, put them down between bites to really focus on what is going on in your mouth and throat.
Be aware of your body becoming full. As soon as you feel full, stop eating. If you have leftovers, don’t throw them away! Save them for another day.
When you finish eating, take a moment to be thankful, and spend some time thinking about where your food came from. Was it fresh? Processed? How do you think the food travelled from its source to your plate? Was it healthy? Did it satisfy you? Taking this time to reflect can help us maintain or develop a healthy diet, and question whether our food choices are sustainable and ethical.
And there we have it! Mindful eating isn’t difficult, but it takes a shift in your attitude towards food. It might feel a bit strange at first, but we recommend you give it a try. You might be surprised by the results.
We hope you enjoyed our small take on mindfulness. These practices might be a bit out of the ordinary, but we honestly believe that habitual mindfulness can work wonders for the mind, body, and soul. If you have any mindful exercises or activities that work well for you, please let us know in the comments below!
At ProLife, we specialise in supplying high quality CBD that can be used as part of your daily routine to lessen symptoms of depression or anxiety, improve sleep and energy, and lead to a better sense of wellbeing. You can purchase our products online, or get in touch with us via our website with any questions you may have.