Mindfulness, the practice of present moment awareness with acceptance, is evidenced to have been intentionally cultivated since ancient times to enhance well-being. In our increasingly busy lives, the importance of stopping for a moment can’t be underestimated. According to Professor Ronald D. Siegel of Harvard Medical School, science is now catching up to these intuitively known benefits.
“Neurobiologists are learning that mindfulness practice changes brain structure and function in meaningful, desirable ways,” he writes, “while mental health professionals are enthusiastically discovering that mindfulness practice holds great promise not only for their own personal development, but also as a powerful tool to augment virtually every form of psychotherapy.”
When life is busy and time is precious, adding in something else can be overwhelming. Yet we can all find a few minutes a day, which is enough to make significant changes when it comes to your state of mind.
Here are 7 simple mindfulness practices that Amanda McMillan, founder of wellness retreat company Wellineux, recommends to create more mindfulness that you can do in less than a minute.
Grab a pen, some paper and a spare minute: it’s time to start journaling. If you’ve got any anxiety niggling at you, journaling is a great way to channel it into a healthy outlet. Scientific research has shown that journaling reduces stress and anxiety and one study of biopsy patients even showed those who journaled in the lead up to their surgery recovered significantly quicker than a control group.
Start by giving yourself one whole minute to write down every thought that comes into your mind without altering it or judging its worthiness. You never know what you might come up with.
Mindful breathing helps control your focus on something other than the rush of your day, improving mental clarity and reducing rates of depression and anxiety. One study from the University of Pavia even found that controlled breathing results in lower blood pressure and heart rate, which over time can result in a reduction in risk of stroke and cerebral aneurysm.
All it takes is the time to be able to sit comfortably, close down your eyes and take 10 deep breaths in and out through your nose. Notice the sensations in your nostrils as the air enters and leaves as well as the movement of your chest, abdomen and ribs.
Listening thoughtfully to music
We all know the impact listening to our favourite track means for your mood – why not do it more often in your day? Tuning in our favourite tracks can reduce stress and anxiety and even improving immunity to suppor pain reduction. One study from Taiwan looked at patients who were undergoing spine surgery and saw that those listening to music had lower pain levels post surgery – it’s thought that music’s impact on dopamine release has maybe play a role.
Select a music track and close your eyes. Listen to the music with curiosity. Notice the different instruments, the change in volume and the emotions being conveyed. Or do a stress relieving dance, if the mood takes you (and your colleagues won’t mind).
Playing with purpose
Find a simple colouring in from a book or print one out from the internet and grab some colouring pencils or crayons. Focus on colouring in a section of the picture and allow everything else in your mind to be put to one side as you see the picture come to life.
A study by Curry and Kasser looked at the impact of colouring therapy – a combination of art therapy and meditation – on anxiety. They found that “when individuals colour complex geometric forms, they are provided an opportunity to suspend their “inner dialogue” and to deeply engage in an activity that removes them from the flow of negative thoughts and emotions that can sometimes dominate their lives….and in doing so provide benefits to individuals suffering from anxiety.” Nothing like silencing the inner voice that’s reminding you of all those unanswered emails.
Going for a walk
It will come as no surprise to most that a leisurely stroll has a plethora of benefits. Getting ‘fresh air’ is a long-running cure for an endless list of ailments, with movement improving blood flow throughout the bod, allowing you to feel more alert and refreshed. To make sure you’re being as mindful of the experience as possible, as you walk, move your attention to the feel of your feet on the ground. Notice how your weight is transferred, how your breathing changes and how your legs and arms move. You’ll feel truly refreshed, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Take a shower
Taking a hot shower isn’t just a blissfully cleansing moment for your body, it can also be the same for your mind if you let it. As you shower, notice how the water feels on your hair, your skin and your face. Feel the temperature, the sensations and the cleansing effects of the water. A warm shower can increase your oxytocin levels (the “love hormone” to you and me) so make sure you take the time appreciate every second under the water.
Get in touch with nature
The benefits of nature are far and wide and one study in Japan sent one group of people to a city and another to a forest with the impact being “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure” in the group sent to the forest.
Looking up – stand, sit or lie somewhere that allows you to see the sky or another part of nature – even taking a walk around a park near your office will do the trick. It’s important to notice nature, rather than just have it surround you as you check your iPhone – tune into the sounds, the smells and the colours of nature. You’ll feel better for it: one study in Japan sent one group of people to a city and another to a forest with the impact being “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure” in the group sent to the forest.
You can find these and more simple mindfulness practices in Wellineux’s Mindful Minutes, a beautiful set of mindful practices to easily incorporate into your day in just one minute.