Something that’s been on the rise in recent years is that elusive self-help activity: ‘mindfulness’. Now the idea behind mindfulness is nothing new; in fact it originated from Ancient Eastern and Buddhist philosophies and dates back thousands of years. But over the past decade it has become a bit of a buzzword. Feeling stressed? Try mindfulness. Your company wants to show it cares about its employees? Give them free mindfulness sessions. Feeling worried about what’s going on in the world? Meditate.
But is there something more to mindfulness than meets the eye? If we can cut through the jargon, are there ways that even the sceptics amongst us can find real benefits from giving it a try? Let’s take a look at three myths about mindfulness and sort fact from fiction. This is with the help of some practical exercises to experiment with from The Joy Club mindfulness teacher, Catherine Nasskau. See if you can improve your mood and outlook in just a few minutes each day.
“Mindfulness is for yoga-loving, hemp-wearing hippies”
This stereotype is what puts a lot of people off of trying mindfulness. While the two do sometimes go hand in hand, you don’t have to adopt a hippy lifestyle to reap the rewards of mindfulness.
As humans, our instinct is to store negative information really well. This ‘negative bias’ has served us brilliantly in the past by allowing us to avoid dangerous situations and to recognise threats. However, these automatic negative thoughts in modern life are what cause us to dwell on bad experiences, and, over time, ‘research has shown that our experiences literally reshape our brains and can change our nervous systems, for better or worse.’ (Catherine Nasskau).
So can mindfulness challenge this innate bias? And if so, how?
Exercise: One of the easiest ways to rewire our brains and bodies for the better is to take moments to consciously dwell on positive sensations and experiences.
Try this: the next time you eat something delicious, like a particularly sweet strawberry or even your favourite morning cup of coffee, close your eyes and concentrate on ‘savouring it’. It might feel silly at first, but this simple switch to noticing the flavours and how you feel in your body when enjoying that food or drink can deepen the physical memory of that positive experience.
And while we’re at it, why not give yoga a try too? It’s meditative and relaxing and a really great way to condition your body and make time in your day for yourself.
“I’ll need to read up about it to even get started”
While reading up about mindfulness will never be a bad thing (and if you are looking for some background reading, we recommend, ‘Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World‘ by Mark Williams), truth be told, the benefits of mindfulness are accessible even in the shortest of practices.
Exercise: For example, much like the idea of ‘savouring’ above, another simple exercise you can try is to connect with your body upon waking up, before your thoughts take over.
Try this: When you wake up tomorrow morning, ‘watch three breaths with curiosity, notice the sensations in your body. Notice textures of your bedding – sensations of your head against the pillow – what can you feel in your feet? Three more breaths – feel the changing sensations as you breathe. Maybe take a few slightly longer, deeper breaths. See if you can continue with this physical awareness as you proceed with your day’ (Catherine Nasskau).
In this case, we’re talking mere moments to give mindfulness a chance. You never know, you might just change the way you feel going into every day of your life.
“Mindfulness means I need to find some sort of profound inner peace”
While the word might conjure images of serene, bare-foot people in a state of total tranquillity, the reality is that mindfulness is about the small moments in your day. It doesn’t require you to uproot your lifestyle or undergo a personality change. Actually, it can be as simple as taking a few minutes in bed each night to direct your attention to some specific thoughts…
Exercise: One of the core principles of mindfulness (and of leading a happier life more generally) is that spending time focusing on the things we are grateful for is important, whether they’re tiny things like, “I’m thankful that I didn’t get a parking ticket today”, or big ones like, “I’m thankful for being in good health”.
Try this: ‘Last thing at night, see if you can find ten things to be grateful for. As you consider each one, maybe tap each finger or thumb against your chest as you list them. Or try a meditation for sleep to help you let go of the day and drift off to a relaxed sleep’ (Catherine Nasskau).
Don’t just take it from us…
The Joy Club mindfulness sessions have a 5* rating, with the following being just one of many glowing reviews:
“I thought I’d give this a try after carrying out various mindfulness sessions using Apps and books. I have never been able to bring myself ‘back into the moment’. With the mindfulness lesson today, I was able to do just that. I gained some very useful techniques for when my mind is doing overtime, as well as enjoying a really relaxing session. I left the session and immediately signed up for the next one. In the meantime, I plan to practise the techniques I learnt today.” (Denise)
What else might you enjoy giving a go?
Mindfulness is one mood-boosting activity, but there are plenty of things out there that many of us don’t try because we have never felt they were for us, or because we’ve not previously had the time to give them a go. At The Joy Club, we host over 50 live online events every month, all of which are based on the idea that we should do more of what brings us joy, whether we’re any good at it or not.
If you have been tempted to give mindfulness a go, why not come along to one of our live online classes hosted by Catherine? We also run regular exercise classes, talks from experts (including historians, nutritionists and psychologists) and creative workshops for things like writing and drawing.
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