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How to Start a Mindfulness Practice

“Look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of This Moment.” – Rumi

How often do you sit down at the end of the day and feel like you weren’t actually present in your day at all, more like someone on autopilot just charging through?!

Mindfulness has become a buzz word in the wellness world over the last few years, however, it is a popular concept for very good reason.

Rather than pay a fortune on a gym membership, fancy superfoods or the latest high tech wellness gadget, mindfulness is a practice that is free, accessible to everyone, and very easy to do (once you get into the habit of course!)

Practising mindfulness can give you a stronger, healthier brain, lower your stress levels, lower anxiety and depression, offer you a better nights sleep and improve your mood. Science has repeatedly backed up mindfulness and its restorative, protective and healing powers with countless research studies, proving that this is one self care practice that is worth making time for.

Best of all though, mindfulness doesn’t actually take away time, if it offers you time. It allows you to BE fully in each moment. It isn’t a practice as such, but over time, it becomes more a way of life and a way of moving through your day.

Unfortunately, mindfulness is not something that comes naturally for many of us especially with the hundreds of distractions that steal our attention and focus throughout the day. Studies show that our ability to focus has dropped dramatically as our screen time has skyrocketed.

We constantly check our news feed, email or texts and are bombarded with information that attacks all of our senses.This is why it’s so easy to get through the day and feel like somehow, you missed out on it. Sound familiar? We become addicted to being busy, we lose our connection to ourselves and to other people in our real life, we lose our creativity and spend time lost in the past, future, or other people’s instagram reels.

The good news is though that mindfulness is something that we can learn, and like anything in life, practice allows for good habits to form. Our minds are used to wandering and it’s the brain’s job to process information as it comes in. The more you practise mindfulness, the easier it becomes to stay present and focus your attention on where you want it, rather than letting random thoughts hijack you 24/7.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is defined as a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings and sensations. The idea is to allow thoughts, feelings and sensations to come and go, without judgement or the need to do anything with them or attaching to them in any way.

It involves a gentle acceptance of whatever comes into your awareness in the moment. IThere is no end goal, it is more about exploring your experience and expanding your awareness of your own inner world.

Why practice mindfulness?

Research has shown that mindfulness can change the physiology of the body and brain in ways that strengthen, heal and protect it. There are so many benefits that stem from mindfulness, all of which have been proven through research. Here are some of them:

Lowers stress

Mindfulness lowers the physiological markers of stress and improves the brain’s ability to manage stress. Mindfulness does this by increasing the connectivity in the area of the brain that is important to attention and executive control.

Restores emotional balance

Emotional situations can knock any of us off balance.Mindfulness can help to improve recovery from emotional situations by keeping the emotional brain in check and allowing us to look at events with greater awareness and perspective rather than just being reactive.

Increases resilience

Practising mindfulness for as little as 25 minutes, for three consecutive days, has been shown to increase resilience to psychological stress.

Reduces anxiety

Mindfulness has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety in adolescents, and in adults by up to 38%. It does this by increasing activity in the part of the brain that processes cognitive and emotional information, and the part of the brain that controls worrying.

Slows ageing

Mindfulness can slow the progression of age-related cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. It has been shown to increase the connections in the parts of the brain that are activated when people remember the past or think about the future. Two hours of mindfulness a week can slow down atrophy in the hippocampus which is responsible for emotions, learning and memory.

Reduces depression

Mindfulness can reduce the symptoms of depression and the recurrence of depression and help to train the brain towards more positive thought processes. Being in the moment allows us to experience more gratitude which is shown to boost mood and optimism.

Improve sleep quality and reduce fatigue

A regular mindfulness practice can improve sleep quality, and reduce insomnia and fatigue. In part due to its ability to lower stress levels too.

5 Easy Ways to Practice Mindfulness:
Below are some simple ways you can start to practice mindfulness in your everyday life.

Mindful Eating
These days it’s very easy to eat a meal with no recollection of doing so! We eat in our cars, at our computers, watching Netflix or on a zoom call. Practicing mindfulness while you eat allows you to slow down, be present and focus on the task at hand and only the task at hand- with no distractions! Try sitting down to a meal and taking a big deep breath before even starting. Eat slowly and savour the sensations- the taste, the aroma, the texture even of each mouthful. Listen to your body as you eat for signals that you are full- so often we miss these when we are eating unconsciously. This way of eating is not only far more enjoyable and relaxing, it will do wonders for your digestive system. We cannot digest when we are stressed! So mindful eating goes a long way in supporting our overall well being.

Take a Mindful Pause
It’s estimated that 95% of our behaviour runs on autopilot. That’s because neural networks control all of our habits, reducing all of the sensory input per second into manageable information so we can function in this fast-paced world. These default brain signals are so efficient that they often cause us to relapse into common behaviours without even realising. Mindfulness is the exact opposite of this process. Rather than autopilot, it enables intentional actions and decisions. The more we activate the brain in this way, the stronger it gets. One easy way to do this is take a mindful pause throughout the day. Become aware of exactly what you are doing and why. Take a bird’s eye perspective and really focus on the moment at hand. This is a powerful way not only to practise mindfulness, but to rewire our brain to slow down and be more conscious. Its also a great way to break old habits and start new ones.

Try an App
While you may think technology is the nemesis of mindfulness, it all depends on how you are using it. There are some fantastic mindfulness apps available that help to guide you through different meditation and mindfulness practices. Smiling Mind is a free one, developed by psychologists and health professionals and driven by research. These can be especially helpful when you are fist starting out with a mindfulness practice. Take note of how you feel during and after these sessions. Chances are, they will easily become part of your daily life as you discover the great and simple benefits of taking a few moments to quieten your mind and become present.

Our breath is one of the most simple yet powerful ways to become more mindful. Start by

getting comfortable and beginning to breathe strong, deep, slow breaths. Make sure that your belly is moving up and down as you breathe- often we simply breathe in our chest alone, which is one of the reasons we often feel stress and anxiety. Become aware of what is happening in your body as the breath comes in, and then as it leaves you. Acknowledge your thoughts if they come. Let them be, and then let them go. If your mind moves away, just acknowledge that your mind has wandered, acknowledge where it went, and gently bring your focus back to your breath. Listen to the inhale and exhale, feel the rise and fall of your body. Be present without needing to hurry things along, or move on to the next part of your day. This can be difficult, but remind yourself that whatever happens is okay. Just notice, let it be, and then let it go.

Take a Mindful Walk
As we rush through our day, we are rarely aware of our surroundings. A mindful walk asks you to give your full attention to the experience of walking and your surroundings, instead of walking on autopilot. There is no goal and there doesn’t need to be a destination, it’s more about the journey and process of walking and awareness. To walk mindfully, focus your attention on the actual experience of walking. Feel the ground beneath you as you walk. Listen and notice what this is like. Engage your senses as you do this. Notice the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the world as you move through it. You’ll likely notice so many miniscule details that you miss in your regular walking! Enjoy this process, feel the joy that comes up through this simple practice. If possible, this is best done in nature and barefoot ads even more depth to this experience.

Are you ready to practice mindfulness?

It’s so easy to fall into habitual ways of thinking, feeling and doing. Mindfulness slows the process down, and brings a sense of meaningfulness to even the most mundane, everyday tasks. It allows us to engage the whole of our senses and experience moments of our day with a full aliveness and presence, without the distractions that might tend to dilute our experiences.

The opportunities for mindfulness are in our hands every day – many times a day. Engaging with the things we do regularly – showering, washing the dishes, being, noticing – but being with them fully, with every sense switched on, and without drifting into the future or the past, might be easier said than done, but it’s a powerful way to strengthen our mind, body and spirit.

If you are new to mindfulness, it’s important to be patient and kind with yourself. If your mind is full and a seasoned wanderer, it might push hard at first against any attempt to slow it down or bring it to the present. Start where you are, and with consistency and regular practice, you’ll soon find this practice much easier and very enriching and rewarding.

A retreat is such a great way to dive into mindfulness and take some space to become more aware and connected- to yourself and the world around you. If you’d love to join us for a boutique Bali wellness retreat, contact us here to find out about availability or check our Bali retreat packages here.

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