Do you sometimes wonder whether you washed your hair while in the shower? You probably did but can’t remember so you do it again. This is what can happen when we’re not living from moment to moment. Instead of focusing on having a shower you may have been thinking about organising tonight’s dinner or when your car needs its next service.
So, what is mindfulness and why it is essential for our health and wellbeing? Simply said, when being mindful we are fully present in the current moment, giving our full attention to what is happening right now. Focusing our attention on the here and now can help us to stop worrying about what has happened in the past or what may happen in the future. It also helps us to focus to what needs our attention right now like the work we are doing, the person we are with or the car we are driving.
Mindfulness for stress and weight management
“When worrying about the future or reliving the past, our fight or flight response is activated unnecessarily day in day out. This puts a lot of stress on our body. By being mindful and living in the present moment we automatically switch off this stress response when it’s not actually required”, explains Monash University’s Associate Professor Craig Hassed. “This is why mindfulness is so incredibly important in managing stress and improving our physical and emotional wellbeing.”
It is easy to see why being mindful can reduce our stress levels but Associate Professor Hassed is quick to point out some other health benefits mindfulness can bring such as improved eating habits, physical activity and weight management.
“The mind is central to everything we do. It is the mind that decides what and how much we eat and whether we exercise or not. When a person is mindful, they make more conscious decisions and are as a result better equipped to make healthy change. An example would be opening the fridge. When we are not mindful, we are mostly on automatic pilot and much more affected by habits. A person who is mindful when opening the fridge will make a more conscious decision about whether they need food and if so, what and how much they will take out.”
Tips for practicing mindfulness
So how can we be more mindful in our day to day life? Here are some very simple tips to get you started:
- Going back to the scenario this post started with, when you have a shower in the morning, don’t just go through the motions of getting this done, like one of all your other tasks in the day. Take a moment to feel the water on your body and don’t forget to be in the present when washing your hair :).
- When you eat your lunch, give it your full attention. How does the texture of the food feel in your mouth? How does it taste? Are you enjoying it? Has the body had enough?
- Apart from not shopping for food when you are hungry, be fully present when you do your grocery shopping (instead of being caught up in thoughts). How does the ground feel under your feet? What sounds do you hear? Do you like the look of the food you are taking from the isle? Be present and notice what ideas and motivations influence your food choices.
As you can see from these examples, mindfulness is more than meditation. It is a way of living.
Some handy resources to get you started:
- Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/mindfulness-wellbeing-performance FREE four-week course, takes places three times per year.
- Smiling Mind (a web and app-based meditation program developed by psychologists and educators to help bring mindfulness into your life).
- Mindfulness for Life (book written by Dr Craig Hassed and Stephen McKenzie).