People all around the world attribute their personal mental resilience to daily meditation and mindfulness, but it can be hard to know how to start – or stick with – the practice long enough to gain its benefits. Here’s a beginner’s guide to get you going.
Do you take some time each day to meditate and practice mindfulness? If not, then think of it like strength training for your mind – an exercise which can help you build and develop the ability to stay calm, steady and mentally resilient when put under stress. We chatted to Dr Mosima Mabunda, Head of Wellness at Discovery Vitality, for practical tips on how to make mindfulness a part of your day-to-day.
What exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to a form of meditation in which you focus on what you are experiencing in the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Being mindful can help you direct your attention away from negative or random and unnecessary thoughts that can be draining. It can also help you engage with and appreciate the world around you. So if you’re looking for ways to more effectively deal with stress, anxiety and the symptoms of depression, practicing mindfulness is a good start.
7 steps to become more mindful
A big part of mindfulness is reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and environment. Here's how:
- Start paying attention to the small details in your daily life
As you go about your day-to-day, start noticing the sensations of things. Use all of your senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste) to experience your environment. For instance, notice the texture of the clothes you’re wearing or the temperature of objects you touch.
This may sound small, but doing so can help interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we often adopt in our daily lives and can give us valuable new perspectives.
- Make mindfulness a regular part of your routine
Get into the habit of being more mindful by picking a regular time during your day to be fully aware of your experiences and the world around you, such as when you eat breakfast or when take a break from work.
- Actively try new things
Trying new things, such as sitting spot in the house as you work from home, taking up a simple new craft or hobby, or trying something new for lunch, can help you notice the world in a new way.
- Be aware of your thoughts
It may be difficult to practice mindfulness of your mind feels overwhelmed, thoughts and worries constantly creeping in. Mindfulness isn't about making these thoughts go away, but instead just noticing them coming and going without analysis, interpretation or judgement.
- Name your thoughts and feelings
Naming your thoughts and feelings may help you become aware of them. It may be helpful to silently say: "Here' the thought that I might fail" or "This is stress" or "What I'm feeling is loneliness."
- Be present in the now
Practicing mindfulness and bringing yourself back to the here and now can be useful when you find yourself trapped in reliving past problems or failures, or pre-living future worries.
- Try different mindfulness practices
Some find mindfulness practice easier while doing gentle exercise such as yoga or walking, so it can be helpful to set time aside for more structured mindfulness exercises. Choose a quiet spot without distractions or interruptions and try these:
- Sitting meditation: Sit quietly and pay attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of your body, and gently bringing your attention back whenever your mind starts to wander.
- Body scan meditation: Lie on your back and focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body from head to toe. Notice any sensations, emotions or thoughts that arise with each part of your body.
- Walking meditation: Plan a simple looped route (like around your living room or garden). Begin walking slowly while focusing on the sensations of being upright and keeping your balance. Keep this up for a few loops.
- Gentle exercise: try yoga or tai-chi to help you develop awareness of your breathing.
There are many mindfulness apps available that can help you, says Dr Mabunda, and they’re well worth a try, especially during this stay-at-home period.
"If you’re feeling overwhelmed, distressed or anxious – or if you just want to get into the habit of staying calm for the inevitable point in your life when you will feel that way – take some time today to start this healthy new habit," she says, "and discover for yourself how meditation and mindfulness can help bolster your brain and soothe your soul."