Mindful might be buzzword de jour but do you know what it means?
It’s not a complicated concept by any means, in fact it’s something that should come very naturally to us as people but it seems that in recent times we have lost the ability to be truly mindful. Stemming from zen buddhist teachings the art of living mindfully is basically paying attention to ourselves and the world around us; it is an awareness of our own thoughts, feelings, body and surroundings as well as accepting these thoughts and feelings without judgement. Some people call this self-care and the two are very similar practices, it is a reminder that in order to help others or to even interact we must concentrate on our own selves.
Our minds are incredibly powerful tools and when we engage them in the right ways: they can manifest mental, emotional and physical effects, you might not think that your brain alone could be so strong and have such life changing power but you would be surprised. By living in the present moment and accepting things for the way they are you free your mind from the trappings of overthinking the past or the future – remember, the things that have gone before cannot be changed and the things that are still to come are only affected by what you do now.
Living mindfully is and important practice for anyone who wants to improve their health, it can help alleviate stress and depression by improving your outlook on life, encouraging a focus on the now rather than panicking about the unchangeable. It can even improve the strength of your immune system just by reducing your stress levels.
Many of you have already started switching off and clicking away to something else because you think I’m going to start preaching the benefits of meditation, yoga and veganism or something but that’s not where this is going. There are more ways than meditation to practice being mindful, you can do it anywhere at any point in time, it just takes you to be self-aware – yes you can meditate, and doing so does have it’s own benefits but you can do more…
Some things you should remember if you want to become more mindful are:
- Stop judging – I’m talking about yourself and others. Try and avoid categorizing your thoughts into good and bad and accept that you have feelings and each one is there for a reason. Sometimes we manifest anger to protect ourselves, sometimes we feel sadness to release emotions, these are the emotions you should allow to be there without questioning why, accept them, feel them and let them pass – learn from the experience, try and take note of why you might be feeling these things. When you stop judging yourself you will notice less of a desire to judge others too.
- Accept things as they are – This is a huge part of living mindfully, you cannot change the world in an instant and you must learn to accept things for what they are. Playing the victim and bemoaning the unfairness of life is not going to make the situation better; things happen, no matter what you do you cannot stop life from taking its course and the sooner you accept that and accept you are strong, the sooner you can get into the flow of things and start letting the things that do not serve your roll off your back allowing you more time to appreciate the good things, the little things and the surprises.
- Connect with the real world – Experience nature when you can, walk barefoot on the beach or the grass, take a moment to really feel the earth underfoot. Listen to the sounds of nature, the smells, full experience what nature can offer, even if just for a few minutes. Take this time to remind yourself that you are human, you are alive and you are strong, things will come and go but you are always going to be okay.
Another part of living mindfully and being healthy is mindful eating – this plays a huge part in recovering from eating disorders and in generally maintaining a healthy relationship with food.
The Pistachio Effect suggests that by incorporating natural ways of slowing down how we eat and snack we naturally eat less and feel just as satisfied. It suggests that by making a small change such as snacking on shelled pistachios rather that unshelled people will tend to eat fewer nuts in one sitting because of the labour of having to remove the shells each time rather than mindlessly grabbing ready to eat morsels and going from bag to mouth -making it a great way to control your portions.
Mindful eating is about being intuitive, listening to your body and eating when you’re hungry or stopping when you’re satisfied – not when you are stuffed. Take a moment to think about what you eat and how you feel when you do (before, during and after you’ve eaten), does every meal make you feel good, does it leave you satisfied? Or are you eating for the sake of eating, because it’s lunch time, or you’re bored? How quickly do you eat? Are you shovelling fork after fork into your mouth not really paying attention to how it looks, smells and tastes, either because you’re pressed for time or you’re distracted.
When we eat mindlessly it often leads to us eating food that leaves us feeling sick or unsatisfied because we do not take into account what our body really wants or needs. These are the kinds of things that lead to binge eating, feeling bloated as well as increased and almost insatiable cravings. Learning to eat mindfully is an important step towards recovery for those with eating disorders, be that anorexia, food addiction or binge eating disorder because it focuses not on how much you are eating but why you are eating it and the time you take to appreciate that food.
So how do you eat mindfully?
- Eat intuitively – Listen to your body and start hearing when it is really hungry. Keep in mind that a lot of times we mistake hunger for thirst because we haven’t had enough water during the day, so ask yourself: are you really hungry or do you just need a glass of water. Do not force yourself to eat 3 square meals a day just because those are meal times, listen for when your body needs sustenance and give it the nutrients it desires.
- Learn when to stop – You should not be eating until you are stuffed, you stomach should never hurt after a meal. Take the time to get to know your body and know when it is satisfied. Take your time while you eat – you should always give yourself at least 20 minutes for mealtimes as this is the time it takes your brain to begin to register how full you are.
- Pick somewhere nice to eat – When it comes time to eat don’t do it at your desk or in front of the TV; pick somewhere calm and free from distractions to dine, put your phones away and focus on the food and the people you are with. Meal times are a great time to socialize with family and friends – this also helps you eat more slowly as you are talking and listening – and to reflect on the day.
- Appreciate your food – Eat with all five senses, food is about more than just taste. Take a moment to admire the beauty of the vegetables that a farmer worked hard to grow for you, indulge in the aromas of the spices and as you eat take in the different textures – which ones do you prefer, soft and creamy or something crunchy with a bite. Listen for the crunch of the vegetables as you eat them or the way a pomegranate seed pops when you bite down.
When you begin to eat mindfully you will find yourself slowly noticing patterns about the way you eat, not all of them are necessarily bad but there are some habits you may decide you want to change.
Learning to be mindful is an impressively powerful tool, you will be amazed at the things your brain can do when you give it the time and the encouragement to do so, when you remove all the clouding nonsense and focus on what is important you will find things start to change quickly. It is important to remember to always be present, no matter how small the moment and to open yourself up to new experiences – welcome them into your life with curiosity and immerse yourself in what they can offer you emotionally, physically, spiritually (if that’s your thing).
For those with chronic pain the power of your own mind can be your best friend. Meditation can help relax your body and release some of the tension created when you hurt. It might sound a little scary to concentrate your mind on the pain as you meditate but when you focus on your breathing and your body in that moment, you will slowly find your brain begins to release some of the tension and pain. It allows you to redirect your attention and accept the sensations in every part of your body rather than try fight those feelings – resistance and fear (two things that come hand in hand with chronic pain) often increase suffering because it causes us to focus on the pain. Not that this is a complete fix of course, but it is a great technique to help those suffering with chronic pain.
Whether you want to call it mindfulness or self care, always remember that you are the most important person in your life and you deserve to be looked after and you deserve to love yourself – you cannot rely on others to do it for you. Embrace the power of the mind and live in the moment, let yourself be healthy and happy.