As it is International Yoga Day, I thought I would share my own experience in trying (and at some points failing) to practice mindfulness. With results including enhancing focus and clarity, increasing productivity, improving sleep and boosting the immune system, I had high expectations. Here’s what I learned, both about the art of mindfulness, and also myself.
Firstly, what is mindfulness? Well according to Bemindful “mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”
It’s not as easy as it looks…
The idea of sitting around for an hour, focusing on breathing, movements and ‘the present moment’ didn’t seem like a tall order. In fact, I was quite looking forward to taking an hour out of my busy week to just relax and let go.
In actual fact it was incredibly hard. Painfully hard.
It actually takes a lot of effort to just sit and focus whilst on not allowing my mind to wander. I wasn’t the best at it: I fidgeted, my breath felt forced and uncomfortable, and mind wandered. I am told this is completely normal and most people don’t get the hang of it right away, it is all about training your mind.
We spend a lot of time wrapped up in our own thoughts
Whilst I wasn’t very good at controlling my thoughts, it did show me how much time we spend inside our own head.
I often spend my few hours before work wrapped up in my own thoughts, playing over in my mind a daily to-do list or mentally preparing for a big meeting – it’s a detrimental habit though. There is nothing I can physically do until I arrive at work, so playing it over and over in my mind only serves to make me feel overworked and inevitably burnt out.
Mindfulness is a great sleeping tool
There are a number of great sleeping meditations you can choose to practice each night. My favorite was the ‘body scan’, where you complete a running scan of your body focusing the mind and senses on each particular part until, in my case, you experience a sense of ‘letting go’ throughout.
If you are anything like me and you find it hard to sleep at the end of an exhausting, busy day, mindfulness and meditation can be excellent winding down tools.
The world isn’t going to end if you slow things down for an hour
This was the biggest revelation for me (my lunch hour is usually spent working/eating at my desk) and hands-down the best thing I took away from the sessions.
Most days I would come out of my mindfulness classes with a guilty feeling that I had the spent an hour essentially doing nothing and expect to return to a barrage of emails. Most days I did not, making me realize that as long as I worked smart, an hour out of my day would not be harmful, but in fact very valuable.
Since finishing the series I have vowed to myself that I will make sure to take time out of my working day to do something just for me; be that swimming, walking, working out or simply just going to lunch with a friend.
So whilst I may not have mastered the art of being ‘present’, mindfulness did teach me some important lessons: the more working hours put in does not in fact equal more work out and taking a break is an important, but undervalued tool in increasing productivity and quality of work.