Mental health is just as important as physical health but sadly it can often be forgotten in our busy lives. There are a number of therapeutic techniques that can help improve our mental wellbeing. Our focus today is on the therapeutic technique, mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Former director of the Oxford Mindfulness centre, Professor Mark Williams, says that mindfulness is the awareness of what is happening as it is happening both internally and externally world.
Mindfulness is the opposite to mindlessness. Have you ever forgotten to do something or driven somewhere but can’t remember the journey? These are examples of mindlessness; the world is going by without you really being there for it. Like being on autopilot all of the time, whilst this can have its uses it can also have a negative impact. When on autopilot negative moods can combine and you are less likely to be aware of them until they have built up and affected your body. By the time you are aware of it, you are already far down into that mood. Therefore, ‘waking up’ and checking in regularly is an important.
It takes practise to become more mindful each day but there are a number of different exercises out there to help improve your mental wellbeing. Below are a few exercises you could try today.
This is a very simple exercise but a very powerful one. Simply identify your in-breaths as in-breaths and your out-breaths as out-breaths. Do this for a minute or two. By focusing your attention on your breathing your thoughts of that project, future, to-do-list or even work will stop because you are now focusing your attention, your mindfulness on your breathing.
This exercise is designed to connect us with the beauty of natural environment, something that can easily be missed while we rush around each day.
Pick an object from your surroundings; a flower, a pet, a cloud or even a star. Focus on watching it for a minute or two. Relax into watching your chosen object for as long as your concentration allows. Visual explore every detail of the object and allow yourself to be consumed by the objects presence.
This exercise is designed to open your ears to sound in a non-judgemental way. So much of what we see and hear on a daily basis is influenced by thoughts of past experiences.
Mindful listening helps us leave the past where it is and come into a neutral, present awareness. Select a new piece of music from your music collection, something you’ve never heard before. Close your eyes and if possible use headphones.
Don’t think about the genre or the artist. Instead, allow yourself to get lost in the journey of sound for the duration of the song. Allow yourself to explore the intricacies of the music. The idea is to just listen and allow yourself to become fully entwined with what you are listening to, without preconception or judgement of the genre, artist, lyrics, instrumentation or its origin.
This is a great way to combine both physical and mental exercise. Take 30 minutes out of your day to go for a walk. While you walk focus on your surroundings. Pay close attention to what you are seeing, hearing, and feeling. What does the air feel like on your skin? How does it feel to move your body?
Get in tune with the muscles you are using to walk, how your arms are swinging, and what your feet feel like hitting the ground with each step. Your goal is to fully experience your walk, noticing those things in and around you that you normally block out to think of other things.
Nope, this isn’t just for children! You can now find an abundance of adult colouring books, aimed at cultivating mindfulness and reducing stress. Break out a box of colouring pencils, and set your attention on the page in front of you.
You’ll find that focusing all your thoughts and attention on a single simple and enjoyable task is an easy way to bring about a relaxed, more mindful state.
Don’t see an exercise that you like? Don’t worry there are lots of resources available online or even courses that you could attend. It is important to find something that you can enjoy.