What is mindfulness – and why bother?

Now that I practise mindfulness as part of daily life, I realise that I lived in a state of chaos for a very long time.

Learning to still the mind and bring attention to the present moment takes practice. The more you practise the easier it gets, and the more of a difference you’ll see between a new way of living and your old.

Last year I drove down the coast for a Buddhist ‘Dharma Day’ (a day to reflect and seek enlightenment). During the breaks, we practised ‘mindful walking’. Rather than walking from A to B in a rush, this was about slowly walking in silence, feeling the grass underfoot, noticing the birds singing and really soaking up all that each moment offered.

Buddhist philosophy has focused on how to reduce human suffering for thousands of years. In Buddhist teachings, mindfulness is used as a tool to develop self-knowledge. The more we practise, the more wisdom we gather and the more we step out of suffering.

In my old life, everything was a whirlwind. I was stressed, always busy and my anxiety took over. I’ve found that practising mindfulness dials that all down. Everything becomes calmer, anxiety fades and a whole new world opens up. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it really has changed my life.

As a practice, mindfulness is now been taught in schools, hospitals and prisons, which speaks volumes about the transformational potential it can bring.

What is mindfulness?

  • Awareness
  • Attention
  • Present-moment awareness, non-judgmentally

How do I get started?

  • When my mind was busy I found sitting on the beach was a great place to begin. The sound of the ocean is hypnotic and your breathing naturally slows as you take in the fresh air.
  • Sit crossed legged and get comfy, take a blanket (or two in winter!).
  • Bring your attention to your breath. Become aware of the cold air as you breathe in, and the warmer air as you breathe out.
  • ‘Box breathing’ is a really simple technique to give your monkey mind a job to do rather than letting it wander off into your stressful to-do list. Try breathing in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four.
  • The more you practise, the longer you’ll find you can concentrate simply on your breathing.

What’s the point?

The major benefit I’ve found from practising mindfulness is developing the ability to remove myself from my thoughts. When someone first said to me, “You are not your thoughts”, I thought, “You are bonkers”.

Now, I can appreciate that the jumbling, racing thoughts that hurtle through my mind don’t have to crumble my peace of mind. That takes practice!

There is a reason mindfulness is often successfully used in treating anxiety, depression and addiction. Learning to create this distance from your thoughts and feel a sense of calm focus, I believe, is the key.

No matter how fast they race or negative they become, you do not have to fall into them. They are not you. You can calm your mind and direct your focus back into the very present moment, which is ultimately all we really have. We can alleviate suffering and fear by pouring full attention into what we are doing in the moment.

Gold Coast Beach Rainbow

PHOTO: By Corrine Barraclough

Why self-care is so important

We all have a mental health just as we have a physical health. I wish I’d known this years ago; I would have taken the time to check up on myself.

The truth is, while someone looking after their physical health is obvious, mental health is not.

How often does a colleague at lunchtime say, “I’m going to do some self-care”? They don’t. But many would say, “I’m off to the gym”.

While the results of working out can produce visible results in losing fat or changing body shape, the benefits of self-care are invisible. They are, however, just as important if not more so.

Self-care includes any actions you intentionally take towards looking after your mental and emotional health. This could be going for a walk, practising yoga or meditation.

We’re lucky here on the Gold Coast. We’re surrounded by endless, beautiful opportunities for self-care. Whether you’re strolling along the coastline or absorbing the goodness of nature in Mount Tamborine, all it takes is putting time aside. We’re spoilt for choice with options, they don’t cost money, and we don’t have to commute to a location that can help us embrace stillness and make us feel calm. They’re everywhere!

7 ways to get started:

  1. Get organised. Scheduling in me-time is just as important as any other meeting you put in your diary. So, if you need to allocate time, do it.
  2. Plan your meals. If you rely on having the energy at the end of the day to put food in front of yourself, takeaways and fast food can often be the easy choice. Shop at the weekend and ensure you have supplies for a balanced, healthy diet.
  3. Get active. This doesn’t mean you have to join a gym, spend a fortune or suddenly pretend to have a passion for hard-core workouts. Take a walk, enjoy your surroundings and you’ll feel the benefits.
  4. Sleep. Our bodies rejuvenate while we sleep. It’s important to get into the routine of going to bed at a regular time and aiming for 8 hours a night.
  5. Find your passion. Many of us get swept up in the day-to-day whirlwind of our everyday lives and forget simple things that fulfil us. Reconnect with listening to music, reading or gardening, whatever it is that brings a smile to your face.
  6. Learn to say no. Boundaries are essential for self-care. You can’t say yes to everything and everyone. Don’t feel guilty for putting aside for you.
  7. Connect. The real benefit of setting boundaries is that you can really enjoy connecting with your favourite humans when you feel like a chat. Never under-estimate the power of human connection.