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Mindfulness is simply the skill of being present and aware, at any given moment, in any circumstance.
The benefits are numerous, from increasing concentration and learning to lowering stress levels, to assisting us to be more creative.
It helps us to be more emotionally resilient and less reactive. Mindfulness can enhance our physical and mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness is similar to meditation. It's believed the roots of mindfulness stem from ancient Buddhist meditative traditions.
There are elements similar to contemplative prayer as practised by many Christians and elements of yoga, particularly the focus on breathing. However, mindfulness is not attributed to any particular religion or set of beliefs and is practised by people from all cultures and walks of life.
The basics are fairly simple and learning to be mindful on a daily basis helps us to use the skills when the going gets tough and we find ourselves having to deal with some of life's uncertainties and upsets.
When life gets ugly you aren't going to have the time, strength or the inclination to learn mindfulness!
Being mindful can be something you do regularly throughout the day, or more of a meditation practice that takes a bit longer.
Both are beneficial. The key to both is knowing how to breathe in a circular fashion! Don't panic, it's really quite simple.
Focus on breathing in through your nose, deeply into your belly. Gently hold the breath for a moment and then breathe out very slowly through your mouth. Breathe in again, hold the breath gently and slowly breathe out again. Continue this ''circular'' pattern of breathing.
Set aside about five minutes to begin with and build up time as you become more accomplished.
Make yourself comfortable on a seat where you can sit for five minutes without distraction.
Sit fairly upright with both feet on the ground and your hands resting gently on your lap. Hold your head in a comfortable position.
Now focus on breathing in through your nose, deeply into your belly. Gently hold the breath for a moment and then breathe slowly out through your mouth. Continue this pattern of breathing.
Thoughts will pop into your head. Don't worry or try to push them away, it will only make you more uptight!
Instead notice them without judging them, without thinking of them as good or bad. They are just thoughts. Let them pass by like traffic on the street and bring your focus back to the circular breathing.
You may notice your breathing begin to slow and your body feel more relaxed. Now you can take note of what you can feel. Are you warm? Is the chair hard?
What can you hear? Are there birds tweeting? Is there a radio on in the background? Can you recognise any emotions passing through your head? Acknowledge them and let them go, continuing with your circular breathing.
This meditation can be five or 50 minutes and the more often you do it the greater the results.
This might be the only way you want to practise mindfulness, but let's acknowledge it can be difficult to find an uninterrupted block of time to spend meditating. So to still reap the benefits, I suggest you try what I've called ''mindfulness on the move''.
Mindfulness on the move is about incorporating moments of mini mindfulness into your day. Several times during the day take a moment to concentrate on your breathing and use the circular breathing technique while paying deliberate attention to what you're doing at any given time. You might be stuck on a problem at work, you might be on a crowded bus, or maybe you're preparing the veges for dinner.
What can you feel? What can you hear? What's happening around you? How are you feeling? What's your body doing?
When your mind wanders off, and it will, gently bring your focus back to the breathing and paying attention to what you are doing.
Don't be hard on yourself for losing focus, just let it go. These moments of mini mindfulness need only be two or three minutes at a time.
You'll begin to notice with the mini mindful moments that you become more aware and calm. The more you do it, the better you'll train yourself to be more mindful.
Jan Aitken is a Dunedin based life coach.
For more go to www.fitforlifecoaches.co.nz
Tips for building mindfulness into your day
• Practice the circular breathing technique.
• Set a reminder in your phone or on your calendar, anywhere that reminds you to stop, breathe and be aware for two or three minutes at a time, several times a day. For example, when you wake up first thing concentrate on your breathing. What can you feel and hear? How are you feeling?
• Notice how your breakfast tastes, its flavours and textures.
• Notice the temperature of the water as you shower. Can you smell the shampoo? How does the towel feel when you dry yourself?
• What is your trip to work, school, university like? What is the weather doing? How many people are around?
• During your day, take a moment to practise the breathing and notice what is going on for you and around you
• At bedtime, before you turn the light off, think about the day and take a moment to reflect on it. Practice the breathing and again think about what you can feel and hear. Take a few more mindful deep breaths and relax into a good night's sleep.