Whenever I hear about mindfulness a small part of me draws away feeling slightly cynical, and honestly, a little fatigued with it’s perfect ‘zen’ image. When I think about mindfulness I think of google executives in flip flops, or yoga gurus with flat stomachs and unflappable self-discipline. People who are ‘mindful’ don’t demolish an entire pack of Jaffa Cakes while writing blog posts… Why is that?
I’m not sure why or when mindfulness got to be so complicated; so unattainable. Yet, for many of us the idea of creating a mindfulness practice seems a far off, distant state of being.
In my work this has been something I’ve really had to grapple with. There is compelling evidence and research about mindfulness and how it can improve our mental and physical health. For example;
A 2011 systematic review of more than 20 randomised controlled trials successfully demonstrated improvements in overall mental health, as well as its benefits for reducing risk of relapse from depression. Similarly, substantial evidence within these trails points towards mindfulness as having a positive impact on anxiety disorders.
 Fjorback LO, Arendt M, Ornbøl E, Fink P, Walach H. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.( Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2011 Aug;124(2)102-19.
So, this is something important. This is something that could actually improve our mental health and has been shown to reduce a risk of relapsing into depressive states and has a positive overall impact on our levels of anxiety.
Yet, my Inner Rebel is rolling her eyes…she’s bored of being lectured and verbally showered with the benefits of a ‘daily mindfulness practice’ by celebrities on podcasts. Most of us can’t go on a three month silent meditation retreat to Thailand.
Simply sitting with ourselves in an authentic and calm way has somehow become a brand. It’s become something that you need to buy into, something that you must ‘master’… or you’re ‘failing’.
One of my friends here in Sheffield is a seventy year old lady I met while we were working in a shop together when I was a student. This friend picks out a slightly different route to walk to work each day. She chooses to sit in a different seat from yesterday or drink from a different mug. This friend has taught me more about mindfulness and meditation then any book or podcast on the subject. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t even label what she is doing as being ‘mindful’. My friend chooses each day to notice her surroundings. To notice herself within those surroundings and within the bubble of her own body.
For me, mindfulness is finding moments in our day to ‘notice’. To notice what is within; to notice what the impact of our environment is having upon us. Why can’t we be mindful by enjoying a cup of tea at the perfect temperature? Smelling onions cook in a pan and become soft and golden. Mindfulness can be spending time in nature and letting it occupy our busy brains. Mindfulness is noticing the robin balancing on your neighbours fence and smiling to yourself as it sways on its tightrope. Mindfulness is noticing how your shoulders tense up when you hear the BBC news drumming intro.
What mindfulness is to one person will leave another completely cold. This is the nature of it, it’s going to be unique to you. The things that you notice about yourself and the world around you will hold different meanings. It is through this noticing that I believe we can truly develop self-care that is effective and nourishing for ourselves; self -care that is tailor made for us. It is through our own noticing that we are able to find the words for our experiences that belong to us.
For me, things changed when I tore up the rule book about what mindfulness should look like. I had to press mute on some of those voices that weren’t encouraging me to find my own definition. Sometimes I really enjoy a guided meditation on an app like Calm. Other days watering my garden, or lighting a candle is enough. For me, it’s all about finding moments that allow space for noticing myself; moments that give time to acknowledge how I’m feeling in myself. So don’t feel discouraged if you’ve struggled to start or keep up with a ‘mindfulness practice’. There isn’t a right way to do it…only your way. Start with a gentle noticing, then go from there.