Because sometimes you’ve gotta take it slow.
In today’s extraordinarily fast-paced world, it’s all too easy to drown in the swirling tide of work, family, money, health, food, tiredness, tension, and all the anxiety this mish-mash of daily stress ignites. It’s a jungle out there. Fortunately, there are ways to help you wade through this messy muddle, and the latest phenomenon is mindfulness.
According to holistic lifestyle coach and creator of The Inspired Table, Jordanna Levin, mindfulness is a form of self-awareness that has been practiced for thousands of years in different capacities.
“Mindfulness is a moment by moment practice of tuning into thoughts, feelings and sensations in the physical, mental and emotional body,” says Levin.
“It originated in Buddhist teachings and philosophies but has been practiced through out history and in modern times without any religious affiliations. Mindfulness is ultimately about finding inner peace and reconnecting to self.”
So, to help you sift through the madness of 21st century life, here are 13 ways to start becoming more tuned in to yourself…
1. Try adult coloring books
Adult coloring is a wonderful way to achieve mindfulness, and Jordanna Levin is a huge advocate. “Coloring-in is a form of mindfulness because it allows the mind to focus in on one activity, which naturally will expel over-thinking, stress or worry,” she states.
“It’s not just another case of adults not acting their age. Adult coloring books are a welcome distraction to the always-on digital world. They’re designed to de-stress, remind us of our carefree childhood, encourage creativity and help us become more mindful. “
2. Let your mind wander
According to psychologist Marsha Lucas, letting your mind wander is a great way to become more mindful. “Your mind and brain are natural wanderers – much like a crawling toddler or a puppy,” Lucas says.
“The beneficial brain changes seen in the neuroscience research on mindfulness are thought to be promoted in large part by the act of noticing that your mind has wandered, and then non-judgmentally – lovingly and gently; bringing it back.”
There you go. Having a ‘busy brain’ is actually a good thing, much as it might drive you crazy from time to time. It’s all a matter of learning how to reel it in.
3. Do one thing at a time
For a while now, having the ability to multitask has been one of the most desired characteristics to possess. However, the notion that multitasking makes you more productive is actually a myth. A recent study by Stanford University found that multitasking is actually less productive than doing a single thing at a time and can even negatively impact your memory.
A way to become more mindful is to simply focus on doing one thing at a time. Each task you take on should be given full individual awareness. When mindfully doing a task, you’re less prone to rushing, making mistakes, or forgetting details. You’ll also ironically become more efficient, and finish without that worn, tense feeling. Remember, life is not a to-do list!
4. Stretch first thing in the morning
It’s often said nowadays that ‘sitting is the new smoking’. Our bodies are designed to move and be energetic, and that should start first thing in the morning. When you wake up, your muscles are still warm and relaxed for the previous night’s sleep. Take advantage of this by doing some gentle stretches and deep breathing. This will put you in touch with your body and the tangible world, immediately grounding and centering you for the day ahead.
5. Eat with awareness
Chewing your food slowly is not just something your parents said to stop your five year-old self from throwing up your chocolate sundae. Eating mindfully can help you reclaim the pleasure of food. Levin’s The Inspired Table seeks to instil this in generations who’ve developed a complicated relationship with food and eating.
“Food should inspire and nourish, not be a source of stress and anxiety,” says the author.
To get started eating more mindfully, when you sit down to eat, ensure you turn off all electronic devices (yes, that includes your phone), and focus on the immediate experience at hand. Pause, look at your food and notice its scent. When you do pick up the fork, take small bites and chew slowly. Move to take another mouthful only after you’ve fully chewed and swallowed the last. Being fully present when you are eating isn’t just an effective way of achieving mindfulness, it’s also been shown to aid weight loss, so what are you waiting for?
6. Breathe deeply
Stressed and overwhelmed at work? Focusing on the movement of air in and out of your lungs is a surefire way to reconnect you to the present moment. You can practice this at your desk, in the coffee line, waiting for a train; whenever you have some idle time. Before and after every conversation, take three deep breaths in and out from your belly. You’ll be more present, calm, and have a clearer mind afterwards.
7. Slow down
Walking and breathing slower is a great way to calm down the torrid waters of your mind when you’re having a particularly stressful day. Pay close attention to the world around you; sights, sounds, smells, everything. Pretty soon you’ll reconnect to the present moment and find your mindfulness once again.
8. Practice mindfulness, but keep it short
Just like any new skill, mindfulness is something you need to practice. However, rather than spending five hours a day sitting on a hilltop with legs crossed and eyes closed, it’s actually better to do it in short bursts of time. Kind of like interval training for the mind.
According to Lucas, the brain responds best to small bursts of mindfulness training. Being mindful several times a day for small snippets of time is more helpful than a lengthy session, or even a weekend retreat. While 20 minutes is optimal, starting out at just a few minutes a day is perfectly fine. As with everything in life, the more you practice, the easier it will get.
9. Enjoy the outdoors
There is no better way to appreciate and remain present in the world around you than simply bumbling out the door into a beautiful (or not) day. Whatever the weather, experiencing the harshness of the tangible elements will put you in direct contact with your physical being, and force you to pay close attention to the present. Rain, hail or shine, there is everything to be gaining from going outdoors for half an hour every day.
10. Spend a few hours without your phone
Much as we all love our smartphones, they really are the root of all evil. There is nothing more efficient at taking you out of the present moment than the harsh ‘Beep! Beep!’ of your message alert tone. The instinctive and immediate anxiety over the impending communication, good or bad, will destroy any self-awareness you may have built up.
So when you get home after work, try ditching your phone for a few hours. Hide it in a drawer, at the bottom of a cupboard, hell, put it in the washing machine (just make sure its not washing anything at that point in time) and give yourself some time away from the world of complications our communication devices open up. You’ll be surprised by what you notice.
11. Listen mindfully
Often when listening to others, we aren’t focused, caught up in the chatter of our own minds. We can even be judgmental of someone else’s words, mentally agreeing or disagreeing, or planning what we’re going to say when they finish speaking.
So the next time you chat to a friend, try not just taking in their words, but really listening to what they mean. Be completely focused on them, and entirely immersed in the present moment. The power of listening is amazing; it’s an act of love and kindness, that will enhance your own self-connection, as well as your relationships.
12. Take some ‘nothing’ time
We live in an age where doing nothing is seen as laziness, idleness, or complacency. From childhood we are pressured to always be ‘doing’ something, regardless of whether or not it makes us happy. This becomes incredibly toxic as we grow older, and puts immeasurable strain on our relationships and mental health. There is nothing wrong with taking some ‘nothing time’. In fact, it will make your ‘doing time’ even more productive.
Sit quietly in a comfortable chair, or in a sunny spot outside, ideally without mobile phones or other distractions near you. Be still, breathe deeply, and bring your full awareness into the present moment. All that exists for you is the here and now.
13. Walk like you mean it
Walking is a great way to practice mindfulness because it doesn’t require you to take any extra time from your day. It doesn’t matter whether you’re heading, you can turn it into a meditative exercise.
Before you rise from wherever you may be sitting, turn your attention to your intent to walk mindfully. When you stand, allow yourself to become aware of all the sensations associated. Pay full attention to your body, and take one conscious breath. When you start to move, notice how the floor feels under your feet, how your clothes feel moving over your body. Pay close attention to your surroundings; the plants you are passing, the birds singing in the trees, and the details of the buildings you notice. Be fully present in your here and now experience, and you’ll soon experience how truly emancipating mindfulness can feel.
Images via giphy.com and instagram.com.