You can be mindful as you go about your daily life. You can be mindful about the food that you put in your mouth, the songs you listen to, or how you talk to people day-to-day. Meditation and breath work is a more formal practice of mindfulness, but it’s something that can be practiced and cultivated at all times.
There are two key things I share with my clients before they try mindfulness for the first time. The first is to understand that when you try meditating, thoughts and stories will enter your mind. It will happen. It happens for everyone.
The second is to go easy on yourself when those thoughts do arise, and to be kind to yourself. Mindfulness isn’t an exercise in blocking out your thoughts – it’s about noticing them, and letting them drift past.
Once you’ve got your head around all of the above and feel ready to give mindfulness another chance, start small. It could be as little as just taking three slow breaths – a deep inhale, a slow exhale – and noticing how your body feels. And then build that up – five breaths the next day, then 10, then five minutes, then 10 minutes, and so on.
Then there’s how you meditate. The stereotypical image of meditating might be someone sitting cross-legged on a cushion in the middle of the floor – but that doesn’t mean that’s how you have to do it. If sitting down doesn’t work for you, go for a walk without your phone and note the colour of the trees, or how the breeze feels on your face. Stand up and feel your feet on the floor. Rest against a wall and notice the parts of your back that touch it. Find a way that works for you.
If letting go of all of the expectations is the biggest thing you can do to help you on your mindfulness journey, the second biggest is to remember that mindfulness isn’t about focusing on your mind. I think a lot of people can make that mistake, and that’s when those thoughts can come pouring in.
Mindfulness is about focusing on and paying attention to your body: noticing your breath, some tingles in your feet, maybe a nice warm fuzzy feeling, or some discomfort or pain in your body. It’s about noticing that sensation in the body and letting it go. Feel how you occupy space in the world – your height (head to toes), your breadth (side to side) and your depth (front to back). That’s all it is, and that is the gateway to developing awareness to the here and now, to your own presence.
Ultimately, the practice of mindfulness helps you develop your ‘inner witness’. It’s about you recognising yourself, and that you are not your thoughts and emotions, you are not your situation, you are you.
Just being able to name your feelings, notice them, and pay attention to where they’re coming from and where they’re going – that can give you the ability to respond from a place filled with calm and possibility. It can allow you to take back some control. Particularly in our current climate, I think that’s pretty helpful.
Like anyone, I often find myself thinking or feeling things that I don’t necessarily like. But now that I’ve been cultivating and practicing mindfulness for so long, I am better able to catch them, recognise them for what they are, and let them go.
I think Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, articulated it best when he said: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
So go on. Be kind to yourself, take it at your own pace, and don’t expect too much. Mindfulness might just work for you after all.