How to be more mindful

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Take time, take a breath, take notice

We live in a world of increased pace and complexity.Take the time to become more aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences helps you appreciate what really matters. Here are some mindfulness suggestions for home, work, in nature and on social media. 

Becoming more mindful

“Mindfulness is the practice of giving our full, open-hearted attentiveness to what is immediately occurring; physically and mentally, both within and around us.” – Tarchin Hearn

Described in this way, it is clear that mindfulness has more to do with just the mind. First and foremost it is about being attentive to the physical sensations that occur in our bodies and noting how these shift and change in response to behaviours, mind states, emotions and environmental conditions.

When we feel present and grounded in our body, we become more effortlessly here with life as it is occurring, our mind becomes less distracted by conflicting obligations, and we feel more alive through our five senses.
We are fully here and available for the circumstances of our lives – physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally. A kind of mind-body heartfulness!

Mindfulness refers to the mental attention that is required to be fully aware of our lives. In this sense, mindfulness is not the goal, but the basis from which we engage with life.

What you can do every day

  • Find mindfulness training in your area and learn useful techniques for becoming more aware of life as it is happening.
  • Read a more detailed introduction to mindfulness
  • Stop for a while; take 10 mindful breaths in and out, calming the body and mind, then simply rest where you are noticing everything that is going on around you. This practice incorporates four keys aspects of mindfulness training: Stopping - Calming - Resting - Noticing. Together, these four steps are innately healing.Use an everyday environmental cue (the phone ringing, email alert etc) as a reminder to pause and breathe for three breath cycles, and take notice of the world around you.Declare a peace treaty with a familiar route, eg, the path from the garage to the house, and walk this route mindfully – being aware of each foot as it touches the ground. If you break the treaty, go back to the beginning and start again.
  • Walk around the block with a tape recorder. Try to notice all the sounds you hear. When you get home, play the tape back and see what sounds you noticed and what you missed.
  • Create a take notice plan, then go for a walk and put it into action.
  • Have a mirimiri (massage) to sooth and relax your body and enhance your wairua. Taking care of the body and wairua are essential to the practise of mindfulness.
  • Take the opportunity to sit quietly in a busy place like an airport or a mall and notice the interactions between people.
  • Take the time to give a special thank you to people who support you everyday.
  • Learn yoga or meditation.
  • Start a photo diary of a particular favourite place. Take photos of the same landscape, person, or pet every day for a year and make an album.
  • Get permission from your local council to create a temporary work of art in a public space for Mental Health Awareness Week. In keeping with the theme, your art may invite people take time, take a breath and take notice.
  • Discover the name of the of the iwi, hapu, maunga and awa of the place you live.
  • Investigate your whakapapa, who you are, where you are from and where you stand. Skilfully reflecting on the past can enhance our appreciation of the present moment.
  • Give a simple smile and warm greeting to people in the street, your local shop keeper, library staff, health or community centre workers or colleagues at work.
  • Make family meals a time where you sit and be together without the television, mobile phones or other distracting devices.
  • Be mindful of the first mouthful of food you eat. See if you can really pay attention to all the flavours and textures of the food, the act of chewing and the act of swallowing. During the following meal, see if you can be aware of the first two mouthfuls of food, and so on.
  • Play a game of ‘I Spy’ or ‘Spot’ on your next family car journey.
  • Visit the Mental Health Foundation library or your local library for books on mindfulness.

Be more mindful at work

Here are some useful pointers for bringing mindfulness into your working day. This practice has been adapted from the article Mindfulness and Mastery in the Workplace: 21 Ways to Reduce Stress during the Workday by Saki Santorelli.

  • When you wake in the morning, try not to think about the day ahead, but instead bring your attention to your breathing just for a few breath cycles. Then, acknowledging that this is a brand new day that has never been lived before, state an aspiration for how you are going to approach your day. An aspiration should be practical, a reminder of something that you can do, eg, your aspiration may be as simple as to meet others with friendliness.
  • Try walking or cycling to and from work mindfully. If you drive, then leave the radio off and be with your own sound. Whether you are walking, cycling or driving, be aware of any unnecessary tensions held in the body and use your awareness to release them.
  • When stopped at traffic lights or in a slow-moving traffic, take time to contact your breathing.
  • When walking from your car to work, don’t worry about the day ahead, be where you are. Breathe, be mindful of your footsteps, and take in the sights and sounds of the environment around you.
  • Use the natural pause while your computer starts to contact your breathing and allow your body to settle into your chair while being aware of and releasing any unnecessary tension.
  • Try to get out of your work environment during breaks. Go for a walk, being mindful of your breathing, your footsteps and the environment around you.
  • Identify something that occurs frequently during your work day that can be used as a cue for practising mindfulness. For example, when a new email arrives, take a moment to take time, take a breath and take notice.
  • No matter how well you think you know your work colleagues, try meeting them in a fresh way. Can you relate to them as they are now instead of relating to the mental image you may hold of them?
  • Before you leave work for the day, take time to prepare a little bit for the next day so that when you leave, you can truly let go and be present for the next area of life.
  • When you get home, again take a moment to take time, take a breath and take notice, to help orient yourself to home life.

Connect with nature

  • Take a mindful walk through a local park or reserve and take the time to notice the sights, smells and the sounds around you.
  • Go somewhere you’ve always been meaning to visit in your local area.
  • Take time with whanau to connect with the ngahere (forest).
  • Bathe in the mauri ora (life spirit) of our natural environment that gives us its own wonderful oranga (health, welfare etc)
  • Trek to ngahere; korero karakia with tangaroa and your maunga. (Talk and pray with your god and your mountain).
  • Climb your maunga or swim in your awa or moana. (Climb your mountain and swim in the rviers)
  • Collect and measure the rainfall in your garden and keep a diary of the weather you notice each day.
  • Spend time gardening. You could grow a few pots of herbs on a window sill.
  • Take notice of the night sky. Be aware of what phase the moon is in and how the visible constellations change throughout the year.
  • Create a photo diary of a favourite place, plant, animal or tree.
  • Create a green space in your office with indoor plants.
  • Visit a green space in your lunch time to take time, take a breath and take notice – you might like to invite your colleagues to join you occasionally.
  • Choose a square of earth in the garden to explore with a magnifying glass. Perhaps you could create a scrapbook about what you find.
  • Go for a bush walk with your camera and photograph until your heart’s content while taking the time to really notice what you are photographing.
  • Go on a local bird-watching tour. Learn about local flora and fauna. Go on a bush walk and try to identify the different animal and plant species you see.
  • Take notice of the trees and plants in your neighbourhood and note your feelings about them.
  • Join a walking group and explore your local area in the company of others. You may even suggest a mindful walking excursion.

Take notice and practise gratitude

  • Keep a gratitude diary by writing down three things for which you are grateful on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Korero with your tamariki and mokopuna (children and grandchildren) while practising deep listening and mindful speech.
  • At the end of the day ask friends, family or colleagues what the best thing was about their day and listen with interest when they respond.
  • Teachers could begin a classroom gratitude practice. Ask the children to reflect on what they are grateful for in their lives and to express that through art, writing and verbal descriptions.

Work with your local community, school or workplace

  • Organise an in-house mindfulness workshop or programme at your workplace or school.
  • Begin meetings with a karakia (prayer) or short reflection (eg, an inspiring quote) followed by a brief silent period, allowing people to breath mindfully and bring their full attention into the room. End in a similar fashion.
  • Promote messages to help people to take notice of their everyday experiences.
  • Enable the use of mindfulness in schools and other shared spaces where members of the community regularly interact. (Please note that mindfulness programmes should be supervised by experienced mindfulness facilitators.)
  • Advocate for the establishment and protection of natural areas that invite people to take notice of their surroundings, like contemplative spaces in parks.

Being mindful with technology

Have a technology free day with no phones, computers or television, and plan a day of activities that help you take notice more, eg, outdoor games with the kids, a picnic, build and fly kites, gardening, family bush walks etc.

Mindful ways to use social media

The following six points are adapted from an article called 10 Mindful Ways to use Social Media by Lori Deschene. We recommend making time to read all 10 points.

  • Know your intentions. Before you post, ask yourself: am I looking to be seen or validated? Is there something more constructive I could do to meet that need?
  • Be your authentic self. Talk about the things that really matter to you. If you need advice or support, ask for it. It’s easier to be present when you’re being true to yourself.
  • If you propose to tweet or post, always ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Is there anyone this might harm?
  • Respond with your full attention. If the greatest gift we can give someone is our attention, then social media allows us to be endlessly generous. We may not be able to reply to everyone, but responding thoughtfully when we can makes a difference.
  • Use mobile social media sparingly. Don’t fall victim to continuous partial attention when you frequently sign on to be sure you don’t miss out anything. If you choose to limit your mobile access, you may miss out online, but you won’t miss what’s in front of you.
  • Practise letting go. It may feel unkind to disregard certain updates or tweets, but we need downtime to be kind to ourselves. Give yourself permission to let yesterday’s stream go by. This way you won’t need to catch up on updates that have passed, but instead can be part of today’s conversation.

Mindful walking

Try the 'take notice' plan. Before going for a walk, take some time to think about the area you are going to walk in and some of the things that might be present in that area. Choose three or four of these things to serve as ‘mindfulness cues’. It is a good idea to try and use as many of the senses as you can. For example, if you are going for a bush walk, your plan may look like this:

  • Every time I see a Rimu tree, I am going to pause, breathe mindfully and appreciate the grandeur of the Rimu.
  • Whenever I hear the sound of a tui, I am going to pause and listen to its song.
  • Whenever I need a drink of water, I am going to take the time to appreciate the sensation of the cool water pouring into my mouth and down my throat.
  • Whenever I see a tree fern, I am going to use that as a cue to remind me to be aware of the ground beneath my feet. For a period of time, I am going to walk and simply be aware of the sensations of my feet touching the earth.
  • When I see shelf fungi, I am going to pause and breathe in the rich smells of the moist humus air.

Mindful walking practice taken from Walking in Wisdom by Tarchin Hearn

When walking mindfully the most basic thing is to walk so that each and every step you know and experience exactly where you are. I’m here! I’m solidly here! My sensing is registering here. My thinking is arising here. I am seeing and hearing and tasting and touching and smelling all that is around me. Moment by moment, vibrantly awake, responsive, and spaciously present … we are not walking in order to get somewhere. Rather we are walking to realise that we are constantly and continuously here! And richly here as well.

There are four supports we can use to help deepen our appreciation of the moving present. I’m indebted to the inspiring teacher Thich Naht Hanh who introduced me to them. The four supports are smiling, breathing, physical awareness and knowing we are supported by countless living beings.

The Four Basic Supports

Smiling
Stand still for a moment. Close your eyes and experience your body through inner touch. Feel the subtle swaying as it keeps its balance without you having to do anything. As you stand, feel your breathing and on the exhalations, allow your body to soften and let go. Imagine a delightful smile sitting playfully on your head. Smile back to it. As you breathe, imagine the smile, or a cascade of smiles, bubbling, falling, flowing; grinning their way down through your body until all of you is smiling and a stream of smiles is pouring from your feet into the earth. Smiling is the first support.

Breathing
Filled with the lightness of smiling, add to this awareness of the physical sensations of your body breathing. You are still standing with your eyes closed smiling, breathing, opening to the natural movements of a living, and breathing body. Don’t try to control the breath in any way. Just allow it to flow with its own rhythm. Continual awareness of breathing is the second support.

Awareness of physical movement
Now, without abandoning the smile or the awareness of breathing, open your eyes and begin to walk. Feel the muscles of your body flexing, stretching and relaxing in the natural fluidity of movement we call walking. Feel the way your head relates to your neck; the way your back and stomach, and legs and arms co-ordinate together to support this amazing wonder of an organism travelling across the earth. Awareness of the body physically moving in space is the third support.

Supported by innumerable living beings
Finally, as you walk; smiling, breathing, aware of your physical movements, note that underneath your feet, supporting your every step, are innumerable living beings; grasses, flowers, micro-organisms, possibly insects. You are simultaneously stepping on them and being supported by them. Walking with this awareness is the fourth support.

Bringing it all together
If you are new to this way of walking, try just using one of the four supports at a time. Go for a walk and smile.

How does it feel to walk and smile as opposed to walking with grim determination or worrisome thinking? How does it feel to go for a walk while maintaining an awareness of breathing? Perhaps you could synchronise your breathing with your footsteps? What about walking and simply being aware of the physical movements of the body as it continuously arrives in each new moment?

Or try going for a walk and simply be aware of the fact that each time you take a step, you are being supported by a living earth. Eventually, we learn how to bring the four supports together into a harmonious practice of mindful walking.
When you are walking in this way and you find, at times, that your mindfulness is being hijacked by mental chatter, simply pause where you are and take a moment to re-contact your sensing, re-contact the four supports, and continue on your way.