Awareness of the benefits of mindfulness has exploded in recent years but it's often perceived as sitting or lying down in a quiet place to focus on your breathing. Even everyday or enjoyable activities such as dancing, cooking and gardening, can become mindfulness activities you can reap benefits from.
With the coronavirus epidemic we're currently facing, taking control of your emotional wellbeing has become more important than ever. The chances are that you've heard of the benefits of mindfulness and you may be wondering if it's a passing fad or feel that the last thing you have time for at the moment is another task - or just that it isn't very "you".
Mindfulness activities involve no more than being fully present and engaged in the present moment and aware of our thoughts and feelings without judging them or getting too caught up in them.
Being mindful is something that children naturally seem to do as they explore - they get lost in the moment over something we no longer notice, like how a dandelion sets off in the wind or the feeling, smell and taste of new food.
Mindfulness is also backed by science. Research shows that certain parts of the brain related to stress, creativity, emotional control and memory shrink or grow positively on MRI scans with regularly practising mindfulness. Other studies make similar links to helping with anxiety and depression.
That's why we're sharing 7 simple ways you can implement mindfulness activities into your daily life if you want to try it. Hopefully you can find one that suits you (all without it feeling like another task to accomplish in a potentially stressful day).
Cooking can quickly become another routine task to be ticked off - now more than ever. Yet it’s a daily activity that can invoke all of your senses and become mindful if you keep present in the moment and cook from scratch.
Simple, repetitive acts of mixing, chopping and stirring can easily become meditative and therapeutic in itself. If you then stop to smell the ingredients, taste how a recipe is progressing or appreciate the aromas of your dish, you may find that it's a time in your day when you can lose yourself in the present.
And if you have family, a partner or flatmate, it could be an opportunity to reconnect from the stresses of the day as you explore cooking together.
The sound of lawnmowers is a familiar sound across the country as many of us tried to create a more beautiful looking garden to relax or play in during the UK lockdown. Even as the weather changes, gardening can also be a powerful form of mindfulness if you focus on the sensations you feel as you garden.
It can be as simple as feeling the satisfaction of digging out a large weed, noticing how much you love the smell of freshly cut grass, or acknowledging why you find certain flowers in your garden more beautiful than others.
If you were to picture mindful dancing, an image of people dancing like a tree or an animal might spring to mind. The reality is, it's not much more than “dancing like nobody’s watching”, which we’ve all likely done many times in the past - we just didn’t give it a name.
So why not put on a favourite tune you've lost yourself in the moment to before and focus on the sensations you feel? And in the same way you choose music to suit your mood, you should do the same with mindful dancing. There's no right or wrong music.
For a greater look at the ways in which you can practice mindfulness, check out our infographic.
Yoga doesn’t just help improve strength and flexibility - it teaches you to be aware of your movement and breathing and aims to relax the body and mind.
There are plenty of ways to get started with yoga, such as free online videos and mobile apps, whatever your ability level and time constraints. You can quickly find a range of different workouts to suit you - from five-minute morning any-level routines to advanced 45-minute classes that target specific physical issues.
If you have children at home, there are even YouTube classes that encourage children to take part, using storytelling or even pure silliness!
ANY exercise can be mindful
While yoga's aim is to create a mind-body connection, you can practice mindfulness with any form of exercise. It just requires concentrating on matching your breath to the rhythm of your movement and the sensations you feel as you exercise.
Before you begin your sessions, it helps if you’re clear about what sensations you’ll focus on as well as your breathing, such as:
- the feelings of the wind or sun when running;
- how your muscles feel as you engage them during a HIIT or strength training session (which also improves the physical results), or
- the "muscle burn" of lactic acid release.
After your workout is a great time to reflect on other sensations, such as whether your body feels alive and invigorated or relaxed.
We’re in the middle of one of the most challenging times in our current history, so feeling grateful for anything right now may feel tough. Yet studies show that expressing gratitude can potentially help foster mental resilience, improve self-esteem, reduce stress and improve your happiness - even following trauma.
Try taking a few minutes every day - or even just once a week - to stop and write down what you are thankful for, even if it’s just on scraps on paper placed in a box or jar. It can easily be turned into a fun household routine too.
It can be hard to know where to begin, but you can find plenty of gratitude prompts online if you feel stuck, such as:
- What made you laugh today?
- What do you love most about a family member?
- What did you enjoy most today?
Mindfulness apps may be easier than you think
We’ve focused on everyday activities you may already be doing so far, but we thought it was worth ending with why it may be worth joining the 80+ million users that the leading mindfulness apps have.
You may be surprised to know that you can quickly get started with just three minutes a day. Or that they have down-to-earth scripts that suit even sceptical beginners.
If you’re not sure if using a mindfulness app would be a good fit for you, you can try them out for free first (and some are completely free or offer a basic level for free). Most offer plenty of courses to try - from improving anxiety, increasing focus, taking a quick three-minute work break and even sleeping better.
We hope that one of these tips for practising mindfulness daily strikes a chord and that they help you during this difficult period.
Topics: Mental health & wellbeing