Country Living (UK)

PEACE OF MIND

For an all-day sense of calm, discover the benefits of mindfulnes­s with our easy-to-follow guide

- words by lisa buckingham

FROM REDUCED ANXIETY to a more focused mind, the benefits of daily mindfulnes­s practice are backed by a growing body of research. But with everything from colouring books to apps on offer to help you achieve a mindful state, it can be confusing for a beginner to know where to start. Follow our guide to reap the rewards of a quietened mind…

WHAT IS MINDFULNES­S?

There are many forms of meditation, and mindfulnes­s is a secular take on the centuries-old tradition of contemplat­ion found in religious practices such as Buddhism. Jon Kabat-zinn, a US meditation teacher, is a pioneer of mindfulnes­s and defines it as an “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgmental­ly. It’s about knowing what is on your mind”.

The benefits also reach way beyond simply feeling calmer. “It teaches you to understand your own mind and deal with difficulti­es,” explains mindfulnes­s expert Rohan Gunatillak­e, author of Modern Mindfulnes­s: How to be More Relaxed, Focused and Kind While Living in a Fast, Digital, Always-on World (Bluebird, £8.99). “Whether it’s an overly busy mind, a harsh inner critic or a struggle with anxiety, mindfulnes­s can help you tackle these difficulti­es because, while we can’t always change what life throws at us, we can change how we relate to it.”

You don’t need to set aside hours each day. “The power of meditating for five to ten minutes shouldn’t be underestim­ated,” Rohan says, “but the longer you can sit for, the quieter your mind becomes. It’s like shaking up a bottle of muddy water – it takes time for the mud to settle and the water to become clear. Personally, my mind becomes quieter after 15 to 20 minutes.”

Meditating at the same time each day helps it become a habit. You can fit it in

whenever suits you, but people tend to be more alert in the mornings. If you’re new to mindfulnes­s, joining a class can be useful, as meditation­s are led by a teacher, which can help you stay focused. “Meditation is traditiona­lly a social activity, so include a social element if you can,” Rohan says.

It’s also fine to meditate alone. Again, beginners might find a guided meditation helpful – try one of the apps available, such as Headspace, which has a series of meditation­s created by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. You can also try the following meditation­s on your own…

FOCUS ON THE BREATH

Set a timer so you don’t need to keep checking the clock – ten minutes is a good starting point.

Sit upright on a chair, with your feet on the floor and hands in your lap or on your stomach. Start to take slow, deep breaths, feeling your belly rise on the inhale and deflate on the exhale.

Keeping your eyes open or closed (whichever feels right for you), bring your mind to focus on the breath and how it feels as it enters and exits the body.

If a thought comes along and distracts you, note it without judgment, let go of it and then bring your mind back to the breath. It’s completely normal for thoughts to come to you and the mind to wander – the important thing is to repeatedly bring your focus back to the breath.

Beginners might find a guided meditation helpful

BODY SCANNING

Sit comfortabl­y and close your eyes. You’re going to scan each part of your body with your mind, noting any sensations, such as pressure, pain, tension or just a neutral feeling. When your thoughts wander, bring your mind back to the part of the • body you were focusing on.

Start with the toes of your right foot. Feel how they touch the floor and each other. Then shift your focus to the rest of the foot, then the lower leg, knee and thigh. As you focus on each part of your body, take deep breaths and imagine the breath reaching that area. Feel any tension melting away with the out breath. Do the same with the left foot and leg, then slowly move up through each area of the body – groin, hips, abdomen, lower back, chest, upper back, • arms, hands, shoulders, neck and face.

You can take as long as you want to do this. It can be something you do briefly when you’re feeling tense, taking less than a minute, or it can be a longer meditation.

ON THE MOVE

You don’t have to sit still to meditate – a quiet walk in the countrysid­e is the perfect opportunit­y for mindfulnes­s practice. Try clasping your hands together and placing your attention on the sensations in your fingers and hands – do they feel warm? Cold? Can you feel the wind on them? Keep your mind there as much as you can.

Another technique involves bringing your attention to the feeling of your feet striking the ground. You can do this with shoes on, or might even want to try it barefoot for even greater sensation. Refocus your thoughts on the feeling every time you notice you’ve been distracted.

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