Off to work while it’s pitch dark and freezing cold? Cooped up inside when you’d rather be enjoying the fresh air? Suffering from serious braai deprivation? This time of year, as we are waiting for spring, can easily leave us with the ‘winter blues’ or even seasonal affective disorder (SAD) associated with low light levels. It can leave us longing for that first sparkling ray of spring sunshine.
But, before wishing winter away, what if you could achieve that spring-time high by mindfully ‘living in the now’? While some may dismiss mindfulness as not having any value in their life, it may actually be a superpower for dealing with stress.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has hit the mainstream with good reason. What exactly is it and how do you access it? Defined as awareness, cultivated by purposefully paying attention in the present moment with an attitude of non-judgement, kindness, and curiosity, it is essentially a way of achieving inner balance.
Mindfulness is not about sitting cross-legged or in a yoga pose for hours surrounded by clouds of incense. You can start with short meditation sessions, one moment at a time, and slowly extend the duration.
How to become mindful
Just breathe. Belly-breathing (where your tummy expands and your upper chest and shoulders lift ever so slightly), is especially crucial to get enough oxygen into your body. Most of us tend to only breath into the top portion of our lungs. Breathing mindfully and correctly actually boosts concentration and reduces fatigue.
Use your senses. A simple way to get started is with daily habits. So, next time you make a cup of your favourite hot beverage, take notice of everything – reaching for the cups, the sound of coffee granules rattling in the tin, the water boiling in the kettle, the aroma rising with the steam (and remember to breathe.) Now you’re doing it: you are mindfully making your coffee. That’s really all there is to it – and you can expand it to other activities in your life.
Be present. In a way our everyday experience is pretty much characterised by not being where we are. At work we fantasise about holidays; but when we’re away, we worry about work. We’re not appreciating the moment. While there’s nothing wrong with a bit of daydreaming, it’s important to acknowledge where we are right now. So back to the coffee-making; once you’ve started mindfully preparing it, begin focusing on appreciating everything about that moment – those few minutes in the day when you are exactly where you’re meant to be.
Observe, don’t judge. Many thoughts and sensations may pass through your mind. Just accept that thoughts will be there and, like the water pouring from the kettle, allow them to flow without judgement.
Resources to help you on your mindfulness journey
- When you’re on the mindfulness journey, any exercise is invaluable. Physical activity helps you cope with stress and mental illnesses. Try to exercise without music and pay attention to each movement – listen to your heartbeat and feel your breath moving in and out.
- Read the book ‘ How To Stay Sane In An Insane World’ by Helen Nicholson, which teaches you a better way to live so that you feel mindful and productive.
- Watch this TEDx Talk on how mindfulness changes the emotional life of our brains by professor of psychology and psychiatry, Prof. Richard J Davidson.
- Download Headspace, a mobile app that helps you meditate, catch your breath, relax your mind and make every day happier.
There is evidence that there is a strong connection between breath-centred practices and a steadiness of mind. So, while the cold weather may be getting your down, bring all your senses to your meal, drink or surroundings. Take in the temperatures, scents and textures around you. Slow down each moment, breathe in and be fully attentive.
- Centre for Mindfulness Studies
- Institute for Mindfulness South Africa (IMISA)
- Trinity College Dublin