Mindfulness is one of the easiest and most effective methods proven to successfully reduce stress. Just a few minutes each day can drastically improve our overall health, but many people are still unsure how to build their mindfulness muscle.
For those concerned that mindfulness practice might require chanting, incense and the lotus position, Dr Jenny Brockis is here to help. The Australian brain fitness specialist and author of Future Brain: The 12 Keys to Create Your High-Performance Brain specialises in the science of high performance thinking and is a passionate advocate of mindfulness. She’s studied the scientific evidence for its benefits, and believes everyone can easily incorporate the practice into their busy lives. Here are her tips for getting started.
Start with the beginner’s mind.
“The best approach to starting to build mindfulness into your life is to adopt the beginner’s mind,” says Dr Brockis. “Stay curious about what it might be like, and be willing to put in the practice.”
Don’t worry about “doing it right”
“Mindfulness is about noticing what’s happening around you, right now, in the present moment. There isn’t a right or wrong way to be mindful, just your way,” says Dr Brockis. “Some days of practice will feel easier than others. Some days your internal mind chatter may be noisier and more intrusive. What matters here is not to resist your thoughts, merely to notice their presence and then bring your focus back to the breath.”
Choose your spot
Dr Brockis recommends finding a place that you use regularly as your meditation spot. “But you can do the practice anywhere that’s quiet, comfortable and where you won’t get interrupted.”
“Sit comfortably with the back straight and head erect, feet flat on the floor and arms comfortable in your lap, eyes closed or with a gentle downward gaze,” says Dr Brockis. “Orange robes and sitting in the lotus position are not required.”
“In mindfulness meditation the breath is used as a focal point,” says Dr Brockis. “This is easy because we all know how to do it.” But being consciously aware of your breath can take practice, she says. “Start with several deep slow breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, noting the weight of your body on the chair, the pressure of your feet on the floor, then scanning down your body to notice any points of tension, then letting go of that tension on an out breath.”
Don’t stress about intrusive thoughts.
It’s normal to experience thoughts while meditating, says Dr Brockis. “You can’t ‘empty’ your mind. Just bring your attention back to the breath every time you notice your mind has wandered off, over and over and over again. Some days will feel easier than others when you do the practice. That’s normal. The main thing is to choose to persevere.”
Use an app
Technology is a great meditation buddy, says Dr Brockis. “There are a number of great mindfulness apps available; try a few and see which ones you like. They allow you to choose how long you wish to meditate for and are great for when you’re busy or away from home.”
Some of the most popular mindfulness apps are: Headspace; Stop, Breathe & Think; Calm; Welzen; Buddhify; Smiling Mind; and OMG. I Can Meditate!
Try a course.
“Signing up to do a full eight-week course is a great way to really embed the practice with the guidance of an experienced practitioner,” says Dr Brockis. “It’s a good way to get a top-up as well, periodically.”
Pick your delivery style.
Some people prefer listening to a guided mediation, some like to count the breaths, others to simply chill in silence.
How long should you practice for?
“How long you practice for is a personal choice,” says Dr Brockis. “Many people will practice for anything between 10 and 45 minutes depending on how much time you have available and what suits your schedule.”
When is the best time?
The best time is the time that suits you, says Dr Brockis, but bear in mind that practicing being mindful is energising, “so it’s suggested not to do your practice right before bedtime.”
Mindfulness is everywhere
“In addition to the formal practice, there are many ways to add more mindful moments to your day,” says Dr Brockis. “This is about fully engaging with all your senses during everyday activities such as meal preparation or eating a meal, to take time out to use all your senses of smell, taste, touch and sight. You can be mindful when walking, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, when in a conversation, or when on the phone.”