Mindfulness involves observing your thoughts in a neutral and unjudgemental way. MRI scans reveal positive effects of mindfulness on the brain: regions connected with stress and fear shrink, while areas related to attention and concentration get stronger, leaving people calmer and better at problem-solving.
Try some moments of mindfulness throughout your day. Although mindfulness can involve sitting still and closing your eyes, it doesn’t have to – you can do anything mindfully. With practice, mindfulness can become as normal as brushing your teeth …
In the morning: Mindfully brush your teeth
- Stand at the sink and take some slow breaths.
- Notice how it feels to rub your tongue across your teeth.
- Pick up your toothbrush, notice its colour, shape and the pattern of the bristles.
- As you pick up the toothpaste, pay attention to the weight of the tube.
- Slowly squeeze some toothpaste onto the brush, observing whether it flows easily or whether you need to squeeze firmly.
- Pause and smell the aroma.
- As you brush, notice the taste and feel the sensation of the brush moving over your teeth, tongue and the inside of your cheeks.
- Listen to the sound of the bristles as you brush, and feel the sensation as you rinse and spit.
- When you finish, rub your tongue over your teeth again and notice how your mouth feels.
During the day: Respond to your feelings with ABC
Mindfulness invites us to notice and bring compassion to feelings we usually try to avoid.
- Accept what you are noticing. Place one hand over your heart and the other on your forehead. Notice any feelings that come up for you.
- Breathe into the feelings, aware of your hands on your head and heart for comfort and support.
- Offer compassion to any difficult feelings that come up. Name them silently or out loud, “I feel … (name the emotion). I send you compassion and understanding.”
In this exercise we are not trying to change our feelings, though acknowledging painful feelings and offering them a bit of kindness helps them to soften and pass.
At bedtime: Be a sleepy sloth
Often taught as a mindfulness exercise for children, this works just as well for adults!
Sloths move very, very slowly and they sleep a lot. The design of their claws and tendons allows sloths to grip tree branches securely without any effort, enabling them to relax and sleep while hanging upside down.
If you are tense and find it hard to wind down at night, maybe try this exercise:
- Make your way towards your bed really, really slowly, as if in a slow-motion film, or like a sloth inching along a branch.
- In bed, lie on your back with hands on your stomach. Feel your belly rise and fall as you breathe.
- Slow your breathing down, making your exhale twice as long as your inhale.
- Then tense your whole body, curling up your feet, tightening calf and thigh muscles, clenching fists and jaw and scrunching up your face.
- Starting with your feet, slowly working your way up your body releasing your muscles with a sign and notice your body soften and relax.
- Repeat until you feel relaxed and sleepy.