Mindfulness has become a real buzzword recently. It has become fashionable and importantly it has also become accessible. As a therapist I find that level of information and “chatter” surrounding mindfulness overwhelming at times. Each morning I sit down in front of my laptop with my warm cup of tea and I find my inbox overflowing with the latest articles and webinars focusing on the various different aspects of mindfulness. Mindfulness is on the news, in the media and in our yoga studios. But there is an important balance to strike. Are we nearing a point where there is almost too much noise around it? By the very fact it has become so popular and talked about we are almost at risk of missing out on the very thing we set out to discover more about.
Undoubtedly mindfulness has been a valuable way of introducing meditation to the western hemisphere. It makes it palatable and accessible to the masses. It translates into every day life. No longer do people associate mindful meditation with sitting in the lotus position in a hippy studio in the art district of the city, people are now taking it to their desk chairs, their commutes and beyond. I was going to say it translates easily into our everyday lives, but this isn’t always the case. It can however be applied in the majority of our everyday experiences, even the most mundane – in fact that where is can be incredibly powerful and unlock new experiences and change our perceptions and relationship to the very fabric of our everyday lives.
We read and talk so much about mindfulness, but how many of us actually go out and practice it? The reality is that of all of those who think about meditation very few people actually set out and try it. Of those that begin very few continue with the practice, and for those that continue even fewer see it through and make it a part of their life fabric. So how do we get people excited enough to try it? And once you’ve tried it how do you stay engaged in the practice?
We now know what the science has to say; the more you practice the more benefit that you get. Yet the challenges to fitting mindfulness into our everyday lives is something that many people find too difficult to surmount and give up before they have even started. So celebrate the fact that you are still with me at this point but agree with yourself now that you wont just get to the end of this article and put it down, but that you might actually try one of the formal mindfulness exercises. It all hinges in finding a practice that not only works for you but that you can do routinely. Because the truth is mindfulness will only work for us and bring us benefit if we do it. We can talk about it, read about it and think about it, but only when we take the time to sit and practice will we experience meaningful and lasting change, for both ourselves and those around us.
So how do we make it part of our routine? How can we overcome common obstacles? How do we establish a mindfulness practice and make a commitment to a happier, healthier and more enjoyable way of life? Here’s what someone trying to do exactly those things has to say….
Fitting mindfulness into my modern life
My national health service 'prescribed' mindfulness group was offered to me at what could be considered either the best or the worst time for me. I'd been separated for about a year (living in my own home for six months) with my divorce proceedings pending, trying to adjust to my new financial circumstances and meet the challenges of co-parenting a preschooler, as well as working four days a week. Not surprisingly my anxiety levels were high and my schedule was jammed packed so making another commitment was a big decision. I decided I had nothing to lose, and lots to gain by joining the group and seeing what Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) could do for me.
Having already benefitted from cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to manage my anxiety I was keen to see what extra dimension the mindfulness and meditation could bring to my coping toolbox. I was fortunate not to be intimidated by the group aspect as I had previously been part of a national health service run assertiveness group and been pleasantly surprised at how helpful I found group therapy to be.
My experience of group therapy has been that it provides a supportive, safe environment to share my thoughts, emotions and feelings, when I wanted or needed to but there was I pressure to do so. Coming to the realisation that others have similar or other struggles with their thoughts and behaviours that impacts on their lives in equivalent or different ways has also been reassuring in some ways. Just getting that feeling that you are not on your own has helped me no end.
And has the mindfulness helped me? The short answer is yes! I do now have another tool in my anxiety management kit.
The longer answer is that it is hard to fit it into my life and modern life, generally. It is a challenge to take that time out to practice mindfulness, to remember to use it when you're caught up in day-to-day living and get to a point where it becomes more instinctive. You just have to keep practising and find ways to be mindful that work for you.
Five ways I (sometimes!) fit mindfulness into my life are:
1. In the shower, especially first thing in the morning before my four-year old wakes.
2. On the bus to and from work.
3. When I am with my daughter as she falls asleep at night. If I have a calm mind at her bedtime it's much easier and quicker, funnily enough.
4. Doing yoga, in particular, but doing other exercise too.
5. Occasionally joining a lunchtime mindfulness meditation group.
I would love to hear how you try to fit mindfulness into your life.
Okay so you’ve gotten this far. Stop reading, go and experience it for yourself. Don’t just sit…do!