If there’s one word we’ve heard a lot over the last few years it’s mindfulness. Held up as the potential solution to countless problems from insomnia and stress through chronic pain to overeating, exponents would have us believe it holds the key to a calmer, more productive life, but what is it and how do we achieve it? The shelves of libraries and bookshops are stocked with volumes on the subject and there are apps to download or classes we can attend, but is there something we can do for ourselves and begin today?
To put it simply, mindfulness is about being present and living each moment as it arrives. The trouble is, our brains are often either rushing off, planning out our ‘to do list’, or ruminating over the past. So can we turn all that chatter off? The truth is, thoughts will always come into our heads, but we can learn to choose whether to wear ourselves out with them or to let them drift on through. The trick is to keep that monkey mind occupied, so that we have a chance to take a breath and appreciate the sensation of being alive in the moment we're in.
Something artistic can work well but to draw or paint on a blank page might be too challenging, which helps to explain the rise in popularity of colouring books for grown-ups. Choosing colours, varying pencil pressure and keeping within the lines requires enough concentration to keep you in the here and now. For others, mindfulness through movement works best. Tai Chi, yoga or dance classes are all effective, but a simple walk in the outdoors, paying attention to the sounds and smells around you, might do just as well. Handicrafts, such as knitting, crochet or cross stitch, can be another route into mindfulness: their repetitive rhythms are calming and they require sufficient focus to keep you in the present, while the tactile sensations of the yarns and fabrics in your hands offer sensory feedback, too.
The concept of taking time out for a brain break is nothing new. When I worked in an office many years ago, a well-timed filing break gave me a few minutes away from my desk shuffling things into alphabetical order, before returning to my other tasks, refreshed. Equally, many early morning dog walkers rely on that bit of headspace to start their day. And, on family occasions, there's a good reason why some people volunteer to clear up the kitchen: even the washing-up can be a route into mindfulness if you notice the warmth of the water on your skin and take pleasure in making those dishes sparkle, bringing order to the chaos. From smoothing on body lotion, enjoying the sensations and smells, to sitting for a few minutes in the garden listening to the birds, a mindful moment is there for you to discover when you need it. Whatever you do today, take a little time just to breathe and be present – you deserve it.