Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you can’t deny the surge in popularity of mindfulness as the wellbeing movement of the moment. If you want in on its calming powers but are confused on how you practise it in real life, don’t worry. Alexandra Lees and David James Lees, co-founders of Wu Wei Wisdom, are on hand to ensure you keep your zen in all situations.
Mindfulness is not just a formal meditation practice, nor is it simply emptying your mind. It’s about learning how to calm and gently discipline your brain and emotions, so you can take control of your thoughts and feelings rather than letting them control you. It can help you become more balanced and focused in the present moment. You can apply mindfulness techniques to many every-day situations for a greater sense of ease, creativity and inner peace.
On your commute to work
SCENARIO: You’re irritated because your train or bus was delayed, and conditions onboard are uncomfortable. You’re also fretting about the big presentation you have at work today and imagining everything that could go wrong. Mindfulness means swapping thoughts of frustration for ones of gratitude and acceptance. Remind yourself why you’ve chosen your job and all the personal and career benefits it offers you, as this will help rebalance your thinking and reinforce why the cramped commute is worthwhile. Be mindful to also put a stop to projecting ahead onto worst-case scenarios of what could or may happen at your meeting. Instead, refocus your attention on the present moment – make the most of your commuting time by calmly mapping out your ideas for the meeting rather than trying to predict or control the unknown.
Try this: Become the observer
Sometimes you can be so much in your head that you forget to see the bigger picture. On your commute, try looking out of the window and focus only on your external surroundings for five to 10 minutes, but in a neutral, non-judgmental way. Notice the weather and the scenery or the general minutiae of everyday life around you. This exercise will draw your attention away from your racing thoughts and give you a greater sense of perspective.
With your in-laws
SCENARIO: You and your in-laws are like chalk and cheese. You’re also upset and angry because of their constant interfering and you suspect they also criticise you behind your back.
It’s important to take time out to quietly reflect on your expectations about your in-laws. Are they unrealistic? Do you accept that they have a right to a different set of opinions or beliefs to you? You should also mindfully acknowledge that what other people think of you, including your in-laws, is actually none of your business. You can only ever do your best and it’s what you think of yourself that matters most – you may never be able to please them, so stop trying to control the uncontrollable! When your in-laws do overstep the mark, address the situation in a way and at a time that is appropriate. This means it’s vital to make it non-confrontational – draw their attention to their actions rather than making it about them.
Try this: Mindful breathing
When the in-laws really test your patience, rather than responding immediately or in an overly emotional way, practice some mindful breathing to help rebalance your thoughts and emotions before you react. Step away from the situation if you can and breathe slowly and deeply for 10 long breaths. This will help you regain your composure so you can deal with the situation calmly and authentically.
In your lunch hour
SCENARIO: Lunchtime means grazing on trolley snacks at your desk while answering emails, phonecalls and social media updates. There’s no respite from screen time and by the end of the day, your body and mind are frazzled.
Even if you have a demanding work schedule, you can still mindfully choose to set aside at least 20-30 minutes for lunch and time out away from your desk – this will also boost your energy, creativity and productivity. Perhaps find a park bench and savour nature and the changing seasons, or enjoy a little gentle exercise, such as a brisk walk around the block, and notice how good it feels to move your body again. Leave your phone at your desk so you don’t fall into the trap of checking emails or social media during this precious mental recharge time. When it comes to lunchtime eating, rather than grabbing what’s most convenient regardless of nutritional benefits, mindfully pre-plan your lunch so it is healthy and balanced. Prepare a lunch box if you need to, or research and try out the best cafes near your office.
Try this: Mindful eating
Find somewhere quiet to enjoy lunch. Take time to focus on and savour your food by chewing each mouthful slowly, 20-30 times if you can. Enjoy the different colours, aromas, textures and tastes of your food. This process relaxes the mind and will also benefit your digestion too!
SCENARIO: Despite going to bed at a decent time, your restless mind keeps you awake by ruminating on the events of the day. Once you finally fall asleep, you then awaken in the early hours when your negative 3am mind self-talk is at its most vocal.
Create a self-nurturing bedtime routine and environment that will allow you to take control of and calm your mind and body. Consider your evening meal and try to cut out rich foods, caffeine or alcohol at least two to three hours before bedtime. Set aside time to have a soothing bath or enjoy a gentle feel-good book and ensure that your bedroom is a haven of tranquillity by removing clutter and untidiness and adding soft lighting and comfy and fresh bedding. Also, ban any TVs, computers, tablets and phones from the bedroom as these will tempt your mind away from sleep!
Try this: Drawing a line
Before you go to bed, take 10 minutes to review your day from beginning to end, then visualise drawing a line under each segment of the day in turn. Positively affirm to yourself that you have done all you can do for that day and that you will re-start fresh tomorrow. This process will help you mentally sign off and quieten your thoughts. You can also use this exercise if you wake up in the early hours.