Surely sitting doing nothing can't do all that... Can it?
Much has been said about the impact that mindfulness meditation can have, whether it’s success at work, improving your performance at the gym, or generally just helping you switch off. They’re even teaching it at school to help kids with exams.
I completed an 8-week course in mindfulness a few years back in my latest attempt to tackle my decades-long insomnia problem. Having tried dozens of approaches over the years, none have made half the impact that that course has had - and continues to, six years on. To boot, it improved not only my sleep but my entire perspective of life. A grand statement, I concur.
1. It makes the ordinary things in life, extraordinary
Think of a time when you were blown away by a gorgeous view, or were in hysterics with friends and had a moment of overwhelming happiness and just thought ‘wow, I’m so bloody lucky.’ Well, that’s being mindful. You’re being present and aware in the moment and, as a result, your experience becomes more vivid, more fulfilling and more enjoyable.
Pre-mindfulness course, I lived in London and would walk the same route to the tube every day, earphones in, eyes down… Then during my mindfulness course, I started looking up and noticing things I’d never spotted before. Amazing cloud formations. Beautiful brickwork. A crane against a backdrop of a bright blue sky. Cheesy as it sounds, I literally found joy in the ordinary – buildings, streets, even rain. It was weird but brilliant.
2. It makes crappy things less crappy.
Mindfulness is not a distraction technique; you’re not avoiding anything. Instead, it’s about being open to your thoughts and feelings and bodily sensations and accepting them for what they are. As they are. No judgement, no trying to change anything. Just acceptance.
Take my chronic earache, which rears its ugly head randomly. I now follow a technique I’d learnt on my course and direct each in-breath towards where it hurt, then in my mind I ‘breath out’ from the pain. Earache – gone. It's incredible. Every time it reappears, I do the same and it goes.
It works with a hangover too. I've followed the same technique the morning after a few too many, this time channeling my breathing to my forehead, and hurrah! Headache vamoosed.
3. It makes food taste AMAZING.
In my first session, my mindfulness coach James made me spend 15 minutes concentrating on one raisin. 15 MINUTES. I was unsure of what the point was at first, but focusing closely on that one raisin made it the best darn raisin I’d ever eaten in my life. I had never noticed before how wrinkly raisins were – they really are quite odd-looking – or how weird they felt between my fingers. And when I bit into it and all the raisin juice spurted out – it was magical. And I'm not even a fan of raisins.
This got me thinking. If that one raisin could taste so good, how much delicious food had I hoovered up absent-mindedly? I discovered that by eating mindfully, every single morsel of food tasted incredible. It can help you lose weight too – you’re savouring every mouthful rather than eating on autopilot while surfing the net or watching TV and being oblivious to how much or how quickly you’re eating.
4. It takes you out of autopilot
Ever started a song again as you hadn’t listened to it? Or realised that you’d been driving and not concentrating on the journey? During my course it became apparent that I spent my life on autopilot, very rarely living ‘in the moment’. I had a deeply entrenched habit of distractions, whether it be a wandering mind when trying to fall asleep, scrolling through Instagram while watching TV, surfing the net while on the phone. Through regularly practicing mindfulness, I became far more present and focused on whatever I was doing. As a result, as well as enjoying everything, I procrastinated a lot less and achieved SO much more.
5. It takes time and practice, but ultimately saves you time.
Mindfulness can change deeply established mental patterns that you’ve probably had for years. It’s not going to happen overnight. My mindfulness coach described it as similar to gardening – you prep the soil, plant the seeds, water them and then wait patiently for the results.
I did an eight-week course, with 40 minutes of practice six days a week. Yes, I struggled to fit it in, but I prioritised it and it paid off – for all the reasons that I’ve talked about.
It’s not just about doing long stints of meditation sitting cross-legged, it’s also finding ways to weave it into your day-to-day life – mindfully eating, taking in what’s around you when you’re walking along, what your body is doing when you’re exercising, the sensation of toothpaste frothing in your mouth when you're cleaning your teeth. The sensation of water when taking a shower. You’re doing these things anyway so it’s no extra effort.
The beauty of mindfulness is that all it takes is practice. That’s it.
6. It really doesn’t matter how many times your mind drifts off when meditating
When this happens – and it will, a lot – all you need to do is just return back to whatever you were trying to focus on in that practice and give yourself a pat on the back for realising that you had drifted off – that’s being mindful. #winning
Try it yourself
The practice - I offer private meditation relaxation classes and all of my yoga classes start and finish with meditation. Drop me a line to find out more.
The App - Headspace – for 10-minute meditation sessions
The Book: Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world RRP £13.99. This follows an eight-week course and includes a CD of different practices to follow.
The Spotify Album: Mindfulness meditation with Mark Williams (co-author of the book above). A series of audio meditation practice guides.
The course: I completed my course with James at Embrace Mindfulness. I’d go as far to say that it’s the most valuable course I’ve ever completed.
There’s a load more info on mindfulness at www.franticworld.com