Words by Neil Seligman
The UK is in the early stages of its love affair with mindfulness. In fact, it is almost impossible to visit Instagram without coming across yet another post telling us why we should be more mindful and less mindless.
Doctors, academics, neuroscientists, psychologists, parents and students all seem to be embracing the practice, proclaiming its benefits, and pushing forward what might be described as the Mindful Revolution!But how has the Mindful Revolution affected you?Or, has it passed you by?
I have noticed that many people who are excited by the ideas and benefits of mindfulness have found it very difficult to embed a daily practice amongst the pressures of well, life? But for those that do, the benefits have been far-reaching and often unexpected.If you are struggling to find your way in to mindfulness meditation, here are my top seven tips to help you do just that:
1 – Go Shopping
You do not need to spend a lot of money but investing in the objects used for practice will make all the difference when it comes to finding your way back to your seat each day. You will need a meditation cushion and pad (I sourced mine from Calming Breath on Amazon). It is bright yellow, my favourite colour, and I look forward to sitting on it each morning.
You will also need a small kitchen timer with an alarm. Using a timer allows your mind to stop worrying about time and will also keep you from falling asleep and missing your next commitment. (You could use the timer on your phone but most people find the phone the equivalent of mindfulness-kryptonite).
Finally, buy a beautiful notepad to be your Mindfulness Journal. Find one with a cover that inspires you and with blank, not lined, inside pages. The blank pages will challenge you to be creative as you journal, so if you feel the urge to draw something alongside your notes, absolutely do so. Allow the doodles to mix with the words.
2 – Start Small
Start with a five-minute practice and, in small increments, slowly build up to twenty minutes if it feels good to do so. Learn how the body and mind respond to different periods of meditation and find the right duration for your lifestyle.
Allow yourself some flexibility, accepting that some days you will have more or less time to dedicate to your practice, and that is ok.
3 – Create a Ritual
At the time of your practice each day go through the same actions. For me, that means picking up my cushion, placing it in front of the window, setting up my timer, Mindfulness Journal and pen and placing my cup of chamomile tea at my side. I then take my seat and begin my practice. Every day the ritual is the same and I try to bring present moment awareness to each of those simple actions of preparation as part of the practice itself. The ritual helps me orient myself towards mindful awareness even before I close my eyes.
4 – Work With Distractions
In my morning meditation I am sometimes joined by Ty (a large labrador) who tries all his tricks to get my attention. I close my eyes, he nuzzles my ears. I centre myself, he licks my face. I focus on my breath, he rams a toy in my hand. I ignore him, he sits squarely on my lap.
Now sometimes I acquiesce and we play together on the floor. In those moments I try to be fully present with him and the game becomes something of a meditation itself. Other times, he gives up his nuzzling and sits quietly at my side. We then both journey inward, he to sleep, and me into meditation.
Ty has taught me that an authentic mindfulness practice cannot be overly rigid and must include space for the spontaneous and the unexpected. So, do not wait for the time to be perfect, the house to be child-free, or distractions to be absent to start. Mindfulness practice exists amongst the realities of daily life. The only perfect moment to practice is now.
5 – Add Informal Practices To Your Day
The research shows that adding informal mindfulness practices into your daily routine as well as your formal sitting practice is highly beneficial. An informal practice might be: dedicating 100% presence to your child during play-time, taking the long-cut to the train station through the park and savouring the natural beauty, eating your sandwich mindfully at lunch and attending to physical sensations as you do so, or silently sending compassionate thoughts and intentions to others as you engage with them over the course of the day. Choose ones that will be easy to integrate in your busy life.
6 – Keep Your Practice Varied
Different mindfulness practices develop different skills. I like to keep my mindfulness practice varied by choosing a different focus each day. One day I will use an open-monitoring practice to simply notice what is arising within me. Another day I will take a single focus such as the breath or the flame of a candle and when my attention wanders I notice this and bring my focus back.
Alternatively, I sometimes focus on a person I love and take time to absorb the feelings of support and compassion that arise as I visualise them with me. A varied practice will keep you interested and keep you learning. My book 100 Mindfulness Meditations will help you if you need inspiration and guidance.
7 – Forgive Yourself OftenIn order to create a long-term mindfulness practice, forgiveness is essential because there will be days, weeks and even months when you lose sight of your practice. Without forgiveness, it may be impossible to find your way back. So, each time a practice is missed, forgive yourself as immediately and completely as you can. Try not to let guilty feelings of missing practice keep you away from the rich possibility of your next meditation.
Remember, your breath and body will always be ready and available to lead you directly into present moment awareness.
And if you’d like to try a short meditation with your little ones, here’s an easy one to start!
(To be read by an adult.)
Settle into your seat and listen to the sounds of breathing. Close your eyes and relax. Calm and quiet. Breathing in, breathing out.
- As you settle, imagine your head is filling up with tiny smiley faces, each beaming with happiness and bringing joyfulness to every part of your body! Can you feel the corners of your mouth rising into a little smile? Take five smiley breaths here.
- Now imagine there are so many smiley faces in your head that there is no more room so they start dancing down into your arms, into your chest and into your belly. As they dance inside of you notice what you feel. Notice what you see. Take five happy breaths here.
- Now there are so many smileys they are dancing down into your legs, feet and even your toes! Follow them through the body and feel what you feel.
- Now take a deep breath into your body full of smiley faces! With every breath: more smiles, more joy, more happiness. Take five joyful breaths here.
- Now listen, the smiley faces have a message just for you! Listen very carefully!
- Now it is time to thank the smiley faces for visiting and wish them happiness on their journey. It is time to say goodbye.
- When you are ready, it is time to open your eyes.
Encourage the children to share their experiences and invite them to draw a picture of their smileyfulness meditation experience.
Neil Seligman is the Author of 100 Mindfulness Meditations and Founder of The Conscious Professional through which he offers Corporate Mindfulness, Resilience & Wellbeing Programs and 1-1 Life Coaching. Neil leads Luxury Mindfulness Retreats at Champneys and creates Mindfulness-Inspired Fine Art at Soul Portrait Studio.