So you have probably already heard that the benefits of practicing mindfulness are abundant. But just in case you have been living under a rock in some far away land or if you have been just too busy rushing around on autopilot blissfully unaware of what's going on around you to have heard much about mindfulness let's quickly summarise those benefits again here: improved wellbeing and increased performance in all contexts of our lives. Sounds good, huh? Well it really is.
By practising mindfulness you can expect to feel happier and more alive and take more enjoyment from your day to day activities. You can feel less stressed as you rush about your busy life. Also you will notice how your relationships and performance at work improve. In fact you will start to function better in everything you do, your sleep will improve, your concentration and ability to memorise stuff will begin to astound you and you will be boosting your immune system to boot.
So with all these amazing side effects of mindfulness practice, what's the hold up, why aren't you rushing to lay down your yoga mat underneath the closest cherry blossom tree, sitting crossed legged and chanting monotone sounds to chimes and gongs? Well, what's the problem?
You might find like many of the city executives that I coach and teach mindfulness to that you also would rather swallow a swarming beehive while sticking red hot pokers into your eyes than waste any more of your precious time trying to become the next super Buddha. So if this is the case and you would still like to reap all the goodies that mindfulness has to offer then read on.
Do we really need to change our modern day lives to practice and benefit from mindfulness? Do we really have to find the time to fit yet another daily task into our already never ending to-do-lists so we can live a happier and more successful life? Well it may surprise you to know that we don't, just like the busy corporate executives that I work with you don't have to change or add a thing to your already busy existence. All you have to do is be a little creative - you don't need to change your life to practice and benefit from mindfulness but you can change the way you practice mindfulness to fit it into your busy life. Just try to incorporate it into your normal everyday activities, like walking, brushing your teeth (yes I really mean it), biting into your lunchtime sandwich or drinking a cup of coffee and you will still reap the benefits. It works, promise! I know hundreds of very busy people who will vouch for this very fact.
So here's a mindfulness on-the-go practice to get you started:
Coffee (Give- Me- a -) Break
Here's how you should set the scene:
• Don't make extra time for this practice, do it anyway when you go for a coffee (or tea, cigarette, vodka, etc.)
• If you don't fancy doing it, then take notice of that and do it anyway. You can train your mind whatever mood or mind-set you are in.
• Don't worry about anyone noticing what you are doing, they'll just think you are deep in thought - which is what most of them are doing anyway.
• Try to keep this coffee space protected, notice urges to start conversations, check phones, day-dream, and see if you can let yourself just drink coffee for these few minutes and do nothing else.
• Anytime your attention drifts off (which is totally normal and habitual), guide it back to this one thing you have decided to do now. Just this. This is the training.
• It might feel that drinking coffee isn't going to help but the attention training that you are doing whilst drinking coffee is the thing, get it?
• Each time you guide your attention away from distractions back to your coffee you are strengthening the same neurological pathways that will keep you focussed in life.
• You do not need to have any 'special' experience, you can feel divine unity with the coffee, confusion, boredom, irritation, peace or anything else. Allowing yourself to be present in this moment as it is, is part letting go of stress - but it takes practice, so give yourself a break (and another coffee if you like).
Here are some practical instructions:
• Get your coffee or vice of choice.
• Hold it in both hands and just take a look at it. Notice any colour, steam rising up, temperature, smells, weight or other sensations
• Be aware that you are noticing these things, that your thoughts and sensations are coming into your awareness, changing and going again.
• Here you are holding the coffee and here you are noticing yourself doing that. Just this. Nothing else.
• Bring the cup towards your mouth and feel the coffee aroma filling up the space, notice the subtle changes in temperature, the smell, the anticipation as it comes to your lips.
• Take a sip and just allow the coffee to sit in your mouth, noticing any emotional responses (like pleasure, dissatisfaction, disinterest, etc.) arising. See if you also have any thoughts (like 'Look, no sugar!', 'Yum' or 'I'm sure I have more important things to do'), and then leave them alone and swallow the coffee.
• Do you feel the liquid on its downward journey? See if you can notice those sensations. Allow yourself to explore this moment.
• You are one sip of coffee heavier. Stand (or sit) and notice this.
• Continue from step 2 again, and see if you can really just drink one cup of coffee.
Try this exercise every day, and stick with it. Giving your brain a workout requires discipline. Keep practicing and you will find that you reap the many benefits of mindfulness. You will notice you are calmer and more composed and that your ability to be focused, make effective decisions, have greater mental clarity will give you that winning edge (even with a decaf!) as you rush about your busy life.
Dr Michael Sinclair is a Consultant Psychologist and the Clinical Director at City Psychology Group in London. He is the author of "Mindfulness for Busy People: turning frantic and frazzled into calm and composed".