After years of honing our multi-tasking skills it turns out we’re much better off leaving the juggling to the professionals and focusing our full attention on one activity. Perhaps one of the most widely known advocates of mindfulness is teacher, author, poet and Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who travels the world teaching ‘The Art of Mindful Living’. Mindfulness Ireland is one of the many groups that follows Nhat Hanh’s teachings and aims to inspire people to bring mindfulness and reflection in their daily lives. We spoke with Josephine Lynch of the Dublin community for some tips on easy ways to be more mindful.
1. *Start with a Clean Slate* – as you take your morning shower practice noticing the temperature of the water, the smell and feel of the soap and all of the physical sensations of washing. Lynch says that, ‘being in touch with the physical body helps us out of the constant stream of thinking which so often is so much to do with planning, worrying or thinking what I should have said or done’. Try breaking that habit by focusing on the physical instead of letting the mind run wild.
2. *Begin as you intend to go on* – morning mindfulness is a good way to set the tone for the day. Try being fully present and aware in all the things you do in your morning routine. Engage all of your senses as you move through your activities, which means resisting the urge to check your Blackberry while drinking your coffee.
3. *A Calmer Commute* – many of us find the daily commute one of the most stressful times in our day. Whether by train or behind the wheel, you can use this time to practice mindfulness by bringing your attention back to the physical. Lynch suggests, ‘while stopping at traffic lights bring your attention to the physical sensations of breathing and sitting rather than being tied up in impatience or frustration. Take this time for yourself, letting go into just being where you are.’
4. *Short and Sweet* – practicing mindfulness is like interval training, short bursts lead to endurance. It’s better to practice integrate short sessions throughout the day then to try to force something that just isn’t coming yet. Try short sessions by doing a physical check in throughout the day. How do your feet feel? Are they crunched up in shoes? Try slipping your shoes off and moving the feet all around, pressing the toes into the ground. Can you isolate each one?
5. *What Are You Waiting For?* Most of us spend a fair amount of time each day standing in a queue waiting. You can make use of that time by bringing your full attention to your breathing. Breathe in and out through the nose, noticing the breath in different places as you inhale and exhale. Feel the cool air coming in through the nose and the warmer air as you exhale out. Notice the passage of air at the back of the throat and the way your chest expands and contracts.
6. *Use Visual Reminders* – choose something that you see daily to prompt you to be more mindful. Maybe it is a painting in the office or a certain chair in your lounge but each time you see that object let it remind you to focus on the present.
7. *All’s Well that Ends Well* – Lynch also recommends that when getting into bed at night ‘bring the attention to the natural letting go that happens when we are aware of resting our bodies on the bed, maybe saying to ourselves gently “letting go” or “softening”, allowing the body to rest.’ Mindfulness is a skill and like any other activity, the more you practice it the more efficient you will become at it and the greater the benefits you will receive.
However try not to get discouraged if you find it hard to focus at first. Mindfulness is a journey not a destination so enjoy where you are right now.