How do you feel when we say that it’s ok to nurture yourself? We know, as an ideology, it doesn’t always sit comfortably with us.
Nurturing yourself is a little like putting on your oxygen mask before helping others. If you feel good about yourself, you have more to give to your relationships. But how do we achieve this balance and learn to appreciate ourselves fully? We have one word for you. Mindfulness.
Why is mindfulness important?
The benefits of mindfulness include lowering stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also help to lower blood pressure, improve sleep and reduce chronic pain among a list of other issues. If you’re working on all of this stuff for yourself, you’re also in a much better position to nurture your relationships.
That all sounds good, we know! But there’s a danger of talking about this as a cure-all without really getting to grips with what mindfulness is.
It’s one of the phrases we see a lot of these days, and that comes with its own set of advantages and drawbacks. It may conjure images of people meditating, or perhaps you’ve heard rather vague expressions about living mindfully without any real substance to it.
So, what do you need to know? First, mindfulness can be practised by anyone. It can be done in several different ways, so if meditation isn’t your bag, that’s ok too. And most importantly, it’s a powerful tool for turning your attention inwards, in a positive way.
According to Professor Mark Williams, the former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, mindfulness gives us a chance to become, “aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings we experience, and to and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful.”
Some mindfulness tips
Let’s all be honest here, as wonderful as this all sounds, anyone who’s tried mindfulness before will tell you that it’s not always easy to master. But remember, there are so many reasons to find a way that suits you and continue to practice it.
One of the best tips I heard when I first started mindfulness, was to not try and stop the brain from thinking. Instead, observe your thoughts impartially, noticing them, but not getting tied up in knots over details and emotions.
Easy. Right? Or maybe not so much. Even mindfulness gurus admit to having off days with this. So, first and foremost, take comfort from the fact that this is something everyone continually has to work on.
Here are some brilliant tips from Headspace that give you a starting point:
- Schedule at least a few minutes for mindfulness every day.
- Sit in a way that feels comfortable. No, you don’t have to perfect lotus pose first!
- Remember it won’t come naturally. You might get restless, distracted, or impatient. That’s normal!
- Notice your thoughts and feelings and label them.
- Don’t be hard on yourself! Speak to yourself like you would a friend or loved one, with patience and compassion.
How to practice mindfulness
At this point, you may be steeling yourself for a mindful meditation with little to no relish. If that’s you, don’t give up just yet. There are other ways to practice mindfulness and reap all the benefits.
Here are just some ideas:
- Walking and being in nature
- Body scans
- Reading poems
The list could go on. The idea that underpins them all is that each activity above allows you to focus on the present moment, whether that’s through feeling your body move or attuning to your senses in another way. The great thing is that we all know how to do this on an innate level.
To practice self-love at the same time, consider “makeupfulness.” This is the art of prepping your skin for the day and applying makeup while moving through your intentions and noticing what you’re thinking and feeling.
As beauty expert and psychotherapist Lee Pycroft sums up, “a makeup ritual can be great because it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end, it reacquaints your mind with finishing tasks. It feels satisfying.” What’s not to love there! Even better, this is a way to practice some self-nurturing and self-soothing at the same time. And yes, you do deserve that!
Sharing mindfulness with others
Up to this point, we’ve talked about mindfulness as a very personal journey. But how do you share this with others? The effects of mindfulness are tenfold when we do this, and this is where the really exciting bit comes in. Whether it’s dating mindfully, working on the communication in our current relationships, or helping our children to recognise their thoughts and feelings, it’s a tool we can all tap into.
This is something that can be practised at any point in our lives. For instance, age-appropriate mindfulness activities for kids range from those targeted at preschool age, right up to teenagers. The amazing thing is that research shows us that mindfulness for children can help with things like attention issues, bullying and social skills.
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Free mindfulness resources
If you’re feeling inspired to try mindfulness now, great! But where do you start? Hooray for the smartphone, because the easiest way to practice it is through an app. Some are subscription-based, but there are some brilliant free mindfulness apps and resources out there too. This is a great and accessible way to start exploring mindful body scans and other mindfulness techniques.
If something like yoga or running is better for you, you can also find free apps and resources to help you try it out, whatever level you’re starting from, without spending a penny. It’s worth saying that often, the best mindfulness exercises are free and they don’t require tech. Being in nature is the best example of that.
However you embrace it, know that the benefits of mindfulness are seriously real. But your practice doesn’t need to feel anything but fun.