5 Ways To Cultivate Mindful Moments Of Calm Every Day
Have you ever experienced brain fog? Felt anxious or stressed? How about feeling like your brain will explode with a million thoughts, feelings and things to do? You are not alone. Learning to be mindful is not some dark art, in fact there are plenty of things you can start doing today to calm the noise in your head.
In America, over 40 million people are reported to struggle with anxiety disorders and many more battle daily with other types of mental illnesses that have reached epidemic proportions in our modern society. Increasingly, people are searching for alternative ways to manage conditions, which previously would be managed by medication as the first line defence.
The latest research shows that mindfulness, a form of meditation, can help those who suffer from high blood pressure, anxiety, pain and has even been proven to help improve mood and productivity. Mindfulness has the power to change your brain and how you regulate your emotions. How cool is that? But how, I hear you ask, can it work for me?
Moments of mindfulness and calm can simply come from taking a pause in the day. Look up, smile, relax your shoulders, breathe in and breathe out.
How To Become Mindful
It’s human nature to ruminate on the past and worry about the future, instead of being aware of the here and now. I know I’ve been guilty of doing just that many times. Our brain is a wonderfully complex thing that gives us the power to think, process and feel… and stress!
The practice of mindfulness isn’t new. In fact, it has been around for hundreds of years. But today, more people are becoming aware of the benefits it provides for our brain, heart and overall health. To give you the short explanation of mindfulness, let me describe it is as exercise for the emotional centres of your brain. It is a way of being focused in the present moment and using breathing to connect your mind and body. Mindfulness isn’t a one size fits all model, so you need to work out what works best for you to get the full benefits of increased consciousness and energy.
American born professor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, brought mindfulness practice to the Western world back in the late 70s with his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme. Mindfulness has origins in Buddhism, but Kabat-Zinn removed a lot of the spiritual teachings and gave it a scientific framework to make it more accessible to a wider audience.
But don’t take my word for it. Superstars such as Oprah, Lady Gaga and Tony Robbins all have a personal mindfulness practice that helps keep them calm and collected under pressure.
How Does Mindfulness Work?
Mindfulness helps to dampen down your body’s stress response, also known as flight or fight. There is a small almond-shaped part of our old brain (our primitive brain that is geared for survival) called the amygdala that plays a major role in the regulation of emotion and helps us in times of stress.
Impaired function in the amygdala has been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and conditions affecting emotional regulation. By working on strengthening the function of the amygdala, you can teach your body to becomes less reactive, reduce the stress response, and in turn, change your breathing pattern. In doing this, you are able to bring your body back to a calm state, a much better place to be.
Who Should Practice Mindfulness?
Regardless of whether you are in good health or poor health, young or old, there are benefits of having a mindfulness practice. I love that mindfulness is now taught in many schools as a way of helping kids deal with pressure.
We are now in the midst of a mindfulness revolution! The wellness industry has been quick to adopt technology to help promote this simple daily habit. Mindfulness is a billion dollar industry with 22% of workplaces providing training for their employees.
The jury is still out if mindfulness works by regulating from the top down (brain changes) or from the bottom up (body changes, like breathing). Either way, there is more and more scientific evidence pointing to mindfulness as a highly successful, drug-free way to calm the body and increase health and vitality.
What Does Mindfulness Practice Look Like?
Mindfulness practice can be done solo or in a group. It can be as little as one minute or much longer. You can take your practice lying down, sitting, or while on a hike. Confused? Don’t be. Mindfulness is not about where you are or what you are doing, it’s about stopping and being present in the moment and acknowledging that you are a human being and not a human doing.
Here are my top tips for cultivating mindful moments through the day:
- Breathing: If you know me, you probably guessed that this was going to be my number one tip. Breathing is your constant connection to your body’s nervous system. By regulating your breathing rate you can tell your amygdala (one of the initial warning areas in the brain for stress) that you are safe and there is no need to send out the stress police (stress hormones that start the cascade of body changes when you perceive a threat).
- Nature: Being out in the wilderness is healing for the soul. While not everybody gets to live in a glorious place like my home, New Zealand, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find beauty around you. Sometimes, it’s as simple as stopping to appreciate a rainbow or the wind blowing through the trees. It’s in these moments that you can appreciate your existence as a human being.
- Tap into your senses: One of the best ways to bring yourself into the present moment is by recruiting your senses. I love to do this when I am eating. I tell myself to slow down, and rest and my body gets the message that it is okay to digest. Try this out yourself by eating an orange. Before you bite into that juicy piece of ripe orange roll the skin over in your hand, look at the bright colour, sniff the fragrance of the orange and finally take a bite with your eyes closed. Notice how the flavour is magnified and how it brings you into the moment.
- Apps and Tech: While I am a big believer in getting the basics right with effective breathing and listening to your body, sometimes we need a helping hand to reach nirvana. A few of my favourite apps for help with a guided mindfulness practice are Headspace and the Australian-made Smiling Mind. Smiling mind might be my favourite as it is great for kids, was designed by psychologists and is free! Amazing. If you are struggling with your breathing the first ever mindfulness breathing tracker was launched a few years ago called Spire. It is revolutionising people’s reaction to stress in real time bringing conscious awareness to your breathing.
- Tech Holiday: While you might think I am contradicting myself by saying take a tech holiday, I mean it’s worth finding some time in your day, or your week to stop and switch off the technology. It’s a simple practice that can immediately free you and bring you into the present moment.
To get the most out of your mindfulness practice learn to breathe yourself back to calm with a long exhale. Remember that small changes can have a large impact.
To learn more, take The Breathing Test to check how you are breathing. A simple 10 minutes of breathing practice can change your day.
Are You Mindful?
Emma Ferris is known as a breathing guru. She’s also called wellness nut, entrepreneur and a woman on a mission. Drawing on a 12-year career in physiotherapy, as well as expertise in pilates, acupuncture and stress management, Emma Ferris is teaching the world to find their calm and stress less at The Butterfly Effect.