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3 simple steps towards mindfulness

by Neil Hope


3 simple steps towards mindfulnessEvery time we’re able to respond rather than react, the result will be better.

How many times have we looked back and seen how a situation could have turned out so much better for ourselves and others if we had been a bit more mindful in the moment of our motivation, intentions and the feelings of others?

Mindfulness is a real buzz word at the moment. But, of course, it’s an ancient practice; it’s been around a while. Mindfulness helps us to bring more of ourselves into the present, into the moment; to slow our minds down a bit. And the more we practice it, the more mindful we become. We change the outcomes for the better. We learn to respond to what’s happening not just react.

Everything we do, every decision and interaction, affects us as individuals and those around us. By being mindful, it’s easier to think about and determine the conditions we’re setting up for ourselves, our lives and for our relationships with other people.

Mindfulness is a level of awareness achieved through practice. When we practice mindfulness we create the conditions that allow the mind to accept and be aware of itself in the present moment. As we continue to practice, this level of awareness extends from our own thoughts, feelings and intentions to the feelings of others and our environment, increasing beneficial qualities such as kindness, empathy, compassion, tolerance – as well as skills such as listening, concentration, recall and problem solving.

Mindfulness enables us to come from a deeper, more mature place. It helps us be more focused, less irrational. It calms us down. Gives us space to breathe.

It can sound a bit abstract to people who haven’t practiced it before and to all of us with increasingly busy lives. But, simple changes are often all it takes. Here are some simple mindfulness exercises that you can dip into. You may even want to build them into your everyday schedule.

Remember to breathe

It sounds obvious, but when we’re stressed we really do forget to breathe. When we’re finding something tough, perhaps a conversation we don’t want to have, a job we hate, or a deadline we don’t think we can reach, our breathing changes. Perhaps we hold our breath; we interrupt it; we breathe too quickly or too slowly, from our chest rather than our stomach. The result? We increase our stress levels; we may begin to feel anxious. In fact, this type of breathing can trigger hyperventilation and panic attacks. So take a few deep breaths to regulate your breathing and then try to do the task whilst being aware of the breath. Don’t try to change anything… notice… breathe and slow the mind.

How are you feeling?

Our minds can often feel as though they have a life outside of our control, as they move frenetically from one feeling or experience to another. Often we only realise how we feel when we slow down. At which point, we reach for the nearest thing that makes us feel better, in the hope that it will block that feeling out for a while. But feelings are impermanent…they pass. However, good or bad in that moment, it’s worth remembering…those feelings will change. Noticing how we feel as we go through life allows us to feel more fully alive. Learn to embrace these feelings rather than trying to pretend they’re not there. In the longer term there’s more of a risk of them taking over or coming out inappropriately.
So how can we begin to embrace them? It’s simple:

  • Notice your breathing
  • Be aware of your body
  • Be aware of the ground beneath you and how it supports you
  • Slow the mind
These simple points can start to train the mind and allow us space to respond to situations as they arise rather than staying unconscious of them or reacting inappropriately to them.

Take notice and reduce distractions

Avoid too much distraction. Easier said than done, particularly in the digital age with mobile phones ringing and emails pinging day and night. We love to be distracted; it’s almost an addiction. But our endless mental fidgeting and craving for distraction can lead to some terrible outcomes. A train ride, for instance, may seem like a great time to work, watch a film, or make a phone call. But it can be a wasted opportunity. Slowing down the mind has so many benefits.

So try to take the opportunity.

Focus again on your breathing; experience what’s going on in you and around you. Come back to yourself for a few minutes whilst sitting quietly on the train. Notice how you feel. Breathe… slow the mind.

The more we practice mindfulness, the better the conditions we set for our present and future selves. But the key is in making it a habit. Don’t just do it once and expect to feel the earth move. As with exercise, we don’t get fit from going to the gym or on a run once. We do it over and over again until we make it a habit; it becomes second nature; part of who we are. It’s then that we and those around us begin to see and feel the difference.

3 simple steps towards mindfulness

Neil is a former Buddhist monk who has been practicing and teaching meditation for 25 years.

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