This article comes from Phoebe Sanders, a Counsellor/Psychologist at UON and a passionate Acceptance and Commitment Therapist. It can be read in conjunction with April’s article.
So, everyone is talking about it, right? Mindfulness, yoga, meditation… It’s becoming more mainstream in this part of the world. But how can this benefit you? You may not have time to participate in these activities or, like me, you may not like something so formal. Some of you, on the other hand, may love your yoga and meditation, and that is great! Keep doing what works for you.
It is easy to overlook the basics, but in order to have a healthy body and healthy mind, start by looking at your lifestyle factors and try to make healthy lifestyle choices. These are things you can change and improve in your life, and are an essential foundation to improving your overall well-being.
The bare essentials:
- Adequate sleep.
- Healthy eating. Stick to low-risk drinking.
- Exercise. Find a sport or gym, join a group on campus, try parkrun or just walk briskly.
Also, it’s important to maintain connection with others, and participate in hobbies that interest you. If you are organised, it certainly contributes to your health and well-being. Time management (yawn) seems tedious, but it will reduce anxiety. Reflect on these important factors and see if you can make some changes to get you heading towards being healthy (in mind and body!).
So, back to yoga and meditation. Yoga is a great form of exercise and it can also teach you valuable mindfulness skills. Meditation is a dedicated practice, and traditional meditation comes in varying forms. You may practice alone, use an app or go to a meditation class.
But what is mindfulness? I find this word conjures up different meanings to different people. Mindfulness is simply noticing the present. Okay, so how do you do that? Well, chances are you already do it! Perhaps you have recently been so engaged in activity that everything seemed to flow and was going really well. Your mind was engaged in the present.
It is perfectly normal for our minds to distract us like this. Our mind is ultimately designed to save us and our kin, so it is constantly on the lookout for danger, or engaged in problem solving (aka worrying). While worrying pulls us away from the present, practising mindfulness can have incredible benefits – if you know how to do it correctly.
When I ask people about mindfulness, they often say it is to make you feel relaxed. While mindfulness can sometimes be relaxing, that is certainly not its true purpose. It is normal to experience negative and unhelpful thoughts and feelings, and if you try to control them or get rid of them, you are really fighting a losing battle, as they will keep coming back. Also, if you listen to and believe those unhelpful thoughts, you will only reinforce them further. Instead, try to open up to your internal experiences in a curious way. Accept and be willing to have uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, but try to return to the present as often as you can during the day, every day.
Just start to pay attention to the present – your feelings, your thoughts and the world around you – and you will find it is easier to refocus and concentrate on what you are doing (or to then go and do something that is important to you).
Mindfulness is a skill and it takes practice. I practice mindfulness many times a day, but I don’t meditate or set aside time to do it. I simply incorporate it into my daily life. Doing the dishes, for example. Sometimes I resent doing them (but I value cleanliness, so I accept that I am resentful). I notice that feeling in my throat and stomach, I thank my mind for those unhelpful thoughts about my family not helping, and then I absorb myself in act of washing dishes.
I notice the sounds, I notice the feel of the hot water and the smell of the detergent, and the interesting coloured bubbles of varying sizes – and when my mind interrupts me, I simply thank my mind and return to observing. This actually makes the dishwashing process bearable or even slightly enjoyable, believe it or not. Best that you try it with some of the activities that you may dislike but have to do.
Another easy one to incorporate into your day is mindful walking (across campus, from the bus stop, etc). Many students spend this time ‘up in their heads’, and that is fine if it is useful – but if not, try mindfully noticing what is around you. You may concentrate on sounds or colours or the feel of the breeze on your face. Observe these things with curiosity.
You will find that this exercise has many benefits, and the more you do it, the better you get at it. Remember to ‘thank’ your mind for interrupting you (it will) and then return to observing the external world. Other ideas include teeth brushing, preparing breakfast, having a shower, drinking water, or just breathing. We can always go back to just noticing our breath to bring us back to the present.
Remember, you can practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime. Give yourself some ‘triggers’ so you can incorporate it into your day. If you prefer more formal approaches like yoga or meditation classes, go for it, but don’t just leave it for those moments.
The more you do it, the more you will want to keep doing it! If you need further help, visit UON Counselling to get some practical strategies and assistance in improving your well-being!