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Do you feel like you've got too much on your plate, and you aren't managing to finish everything in time? Or do you feel like you're worrying too much about things that happened in the past, or are concerned about what happens in the future?
Feeling like that - in small doses - isn't a bad thing, but if you're increasingly starting to feel like that, frequently, then it sounds like mindfulness could be just the thing you need. HuffPost UK Lifestyle interviewed Gill Hasson, whose latest book Mindfulness has just been released.
Most people don't know what mindfulness is - how would you explain it?
Most people either say – what's that? or – yeah, meditation, I tried it and couldn’t do it. People don’t seem to really know what it is and that's my reason to write the book. It's a very easy concept to grasp, and very relevant to today’s world. To be mindful means to be aware of and engage with what's happening right now in the current moment - understanding where you are, what you want, the situation you're in and how to get where you want to go.
It helps you cope with stress and improve how you approach challenges. The book is mindfulness without meditation. You don’t have to stay in a room for five or 10 minutes. It's based on idea that as human beings we’re pretty unique because we have the cognitive ability to think back to the past – we can learn from it, and there are lots of reasons why looking back is beneficial. Looking forward is also good because we plan and strategise.
But it also means we can get stuck with emotions like regret, remorse and guilt because they relate to the past. We can get stuck there and it can paralyse and screw us up. There’s an argument that that’s what depression is – we can get so stuck in the past we can’t move forward at all. With the future that ability to look forward - we worry about what will happen, and that can lead to anxiety and stress.
GILL'S TIPS ON HOW TO TRY CHOCOLATE MEDITATION
A popular exercise for practicing mindfulness is chocolate eating. Buy a bar and follow these steps:
- 1. Hold the chocolate in your hand. Notice the design of the wrapper and the weight and shape of the chocolate.
- 2. Unwrap the chocolate slowly, carefully and neatly.
- 3. Smell the chocolate. Think about the different 'notes' you get from the smell - heavy, light, sharp, spicy, sweet, warm, etc. Anything you had not noticed before?
- 4. Break off a square and place into your mouth and allow it to slowly melt into the warmth of your tongue.
- 5. Notice how the taste and texture changes from the time you first place the chocolate into your mouth, to the time it is completely melted.
- 6. Take a moment to reflect on, and fully enjoy the flavour and texture of the chocolate.
What do women worry about?
Certainly women worry about work, about paying bills, meeting expectations of partners, family or their own. They definitely are concerned about their children. The book helps you be aware of where your mind is at. It’s not a bad thing to worry – if you act on it you put things in place to meet those issues but most people worry without need.
How do you solve that worry though?
You need to ask yourself: can you do something about it? If you can, then look at what your options are. It's not about burying your concerns. The reason we’re anxious is that it’s a prompt to do something, and if that's the case you can get research about the problem or work out a plan. But - are you still worrying once you’ve done that?
The thing with mindfulness is that if you’re thinking about the future, you aren’t thinking about the present. We’re too busy regretting/being bitter and twisted about the past.
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What can we do about it?
Modern technology pitches us between the two. When you’re on your smartphone, you’re sorting something out in the future. I was out with a friend and she was texting her sister about the weekend.
I asked her what she was doing and she said she was sorting plans for the weekend with her. I replied: "But you're here now, with me, so why make plans for something while you're engaged in your present? We’re totally unaware of where our minds are at.
We can do a whole range of things to be more in the present. The idea of flow. That’s about doing activities that actually create a sense of flow from one activity to another. Any sort of sports, dance, listening to music. Maybe doing a jigsaw, dancing, watching a film, doing a crossword. Gardening. Anything that absorbs your mind and keeps you in the present.
If you are playing tennis you have no opportunity to think about the future or the past – only thing you can focus on is the ball. Once you start to be more aware, and apply that to every day activities, then you’re going to be more mindful.
A lot of us feel like we have too much on and that's why we're flitting from task to task. How do we make that better?
At work, if you feel stressed and you have too much to handle, make a list of what you have to do today and then you have to take responsibility for those. Be assertive and identify what your priorities are. Identify what tasks and actions you can do now and just do those. Don't check emails because that will take you out of what you’re doing and make you feel like you are all over the place.
"It’s very easy to be in the moment but you have to train yourself to be able to do that."
What about our incessant need for taking photos and posting them on social media?
Yes, it’s nice to have a record of an event but that used to be something different back when people had film in their camera you were limited to how many pictures you could take because of the cost of film. You'd take one or two and then move on with it.
It's not like that now. People take a lot of pictures, then they talk about it and stick it on Facebook, and that's the reality of the experience as opposed to actually experiencing it for real. It’s very much about your senses. Your senses are the only thing that can experience the ‘right now’ and your senses keep you where you’re at.
Should employers take mindfulness seriously?
Mindfulness is something NHS and employers need to take into consideration. When you see it in the context of mental health, the inability to be aware of where you’re at right now has consequences.
Without sounding hippy dippy, all it is is having an open mind to what’s happening right now. And crucially, not being judgemental in a situation - whether it is someone's behaviour or a work situation - by saying "I know what is going to happen". Patterns. No, what’s happening is right now and each moment is different.
Improved Attention And Focus
A small study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that kids with ADHD were <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18725656?ordinalpos=6&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum" target="_hplink">able to concentrate better after a 20-minute walk in a park</a> rather than a walk through city or neighborhood streets. "What this particular study tells us is that <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/a-dose-of-nature-for-attention-problems/" target="_hplink">the physical environment matters</a>," Frances E. Kuo, director of the university's Landscape and Human Health Laboratory and one of the study's co-authors told <em>The New York Times</em>. "We don't know what it is about the park, exactly -- the greenness or lack of buildings -- that seems to improve attention." <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/quacktaculous/3143079032/" target="_hplink">quacktaculous</a></em>
Greater Likelihood To Keep Exercising
While every little bit of exercise counts, let's be honest: most of us could probably afford to do a little bit <em>more</em>. The <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html" target="_hplink">2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans</a> recommend the average adult get two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio every week, plus two or more sessions of strength training. It's all too easy to skimp on workouts. However, a 2011 survey found that exercising outdoors is a reinforcing behavior -- the study found that outdoor exercisers "declared a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21291246" target="_hplink">greater intent to repeat the activity</a> at a later date" than gym-goers.
Lower Risk Of Being Overweight
The fresh air, the sunlight, the scenery, the open space -- there's a lot about being outside that can inspire more activity, especially when contrasted to the beckoning couches and screens of indoor spaces. And the extra movement adds up. A 2008 study found that rates of overweight among children who spent more time outside were <a href="http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v32/n11/full/ijo2008171a.html" target="_hplink">27 to 41 percent lower than in kids who spent more time indoors</a>.
Exercise itself is sure to reinvigorate you when you're feeling sluggish, but fresh air can up the effect. A 2009 study from the University of Rochester found that <a href="http://www.intrinsicmotivation.net/SDT/documents/2010_RyanWeinstenEtAl_JEVP.pdf" target="_hplink">just 20 minutes outside</a> can rev you up <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/7803320/20-minutes-outdoors-as-good-as-cup-of-coffee.html" target="_hplink">as much as a cup of coffee</a>, <em>The Telegraph</em> reported. "Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but this suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature," lead author <a href="http://www.psych.rochester.edu/faculty/ryan/" target="_hplink">Richard M. Ryan, Ph.D.</a>, a professor of psychology at the university told the publication. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/galant/688642298/" target="_hplink">thebittenword.com</a></em>
Faster Healing And Less Pain
A 2005 study of spinal surgery patients found that patients staying on the sunny side of the hospital reported <a href="http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/67/1/156.abstract" target="_hplink">less pain, less stress and needed less medication</a> for pain than patients housed on the shady side of the building. Of course, recovering from a surgery will temporarily put a damper on most fitness plans, but if sunlight is the key ingredient, an outdoor workout may just boast some of the same benefits for more minor injuries.
Higher Vitamin D Levels
Taking your workout outside is a great (and free!) way to soak up some additional vitamin D. A 2011 study that found vigorous exercisers had higher levels of vitamin suggested that <a href="http://yourlife.usatoday.com/fitness-food/exercise/story/2011-10-04/Vigorous-exercise-boosts-vitamin-D-while-lowering-heart-risk/50660716/1" target="_hplink">outdoor exercise may be the reason why</a>, <em>USA Today</em> reported. It may be especially helpful for people with a few pounds to lose, according to Everyday Health, since overweight people are almost <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/outdoor-exercise-benefits.aspx" target="_hplink">twice as likely to not get enough vitamin D</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/4775285017/" target="_hplink">Wonderlane</a></em>