Living mindfully: how to find calm anywhere
Mindfulness means trying to find moments of inner calm, paying better attention to what you’re doing and generally living in the present more.
The scientific community is increasingly recognizing the benefits of mindfulness. An Oxford University study has found that practicing mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy can reduce relapses into depression by 43% and, in some cases, can be as effective as taking antidepressants.
Chill out for better health
Even though deep meditation practiced over time (rather than mindfulness) is credited with having the most dramatic results, simply reducing your stress levels through mindfulness can improve your health too.
While stress can suppress our immunity and raise our blood pressure, relaxation techniques can help release feel-good chemicals like serotonin, as well as hormones that heal and repair our bodies.
Adrienne Taren, a researcher studying mindfulness at the University of Pittsburgh, has found that mindfulness may reduce levels of interleukin 6 and cortisol (substances in the body that are associated with stress and inflammation).
Getting into a mindful state
Try these tips for slipping into a mindful frame of mind, wherever you are.
• Perfect your posture
Try to keep your back as upright as possible, and your muscles relaxed and loose. While you may like to shut your eyes (if it’s practical), you can also keep them open and focus on your surroundings.
• Focus on an object
Clinical psychologist Jonathan S Kaplan recommends focusing on physical objects like a smooth rock or a piece of fabric to prevent your thoughts from wandering.
• And … breathe
Inhale deeply, count to three and then exhale deeply. Continue doing this and you’ll probably find that you’re concentrating so much on your breath that you’re not thinking about anything else. The oxygen will flood into your system, making you feel more alert and energized.
Find opportunities for mindfulness everywhere
Most of us don’t have the luxury of taking an hour to sit cross-legged and chant mantras.
But that’s one of the key benefits of mindfulness. Unlike getting into a deep meditative state, mindfulness can be done in short bursts.
Here are some opportunities for moments of mindfulness:
• Brushing your teeth
Start the day by consciously doing something positive for yourself. Resist the urge to multitask or run through your to-do list. Instead, concentrate on what you’re doing and the sensation of rubbing your toothbrush against your teeth.
• Standing in queue
This is a surefire stress trigger. But instead of feeling angry, see it as an opportunity to do a short meditation. Have a few mantras up your sleeve if that helps.
• Nature walking
The Japanese call mindful nature walks ‘shinrin-yoku’. The practice involves paying attention to your surroundings and using all five senses.
Unsurprisingly, natural surroundings tend to be more calm-inducing. One study found that when people walked in a park rather than in a busy city center, their levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) were lower.
• On public transport
While you wouldn’t want to get into a trance-like state in public, a ‘mini meditation’ session is perfectly achievable, according to Vedic meditation practitioner Charlie Knoles. If you have trouble switching persistent thoughts off, try a meditation app like Headspace.
• Mindful mealtimes
You’re not alone if you’re guilty of eating in front of the TV, having lunch at your computer or grabbing a snack on the go. But eating distractedly could be making you put on weight, and it robs you of an opportunity to take a break.
The next time you sit down to a meal – and sitting down is a good start – try paying more attention to how your food looks and the flavors you can detect. Aim to chew each mouthful roughly 20 times.