Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Master the art of mindful meditation and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come.
Elise Bialylew is a doctor and psychiatrist, an author, and the founder of Mindful in May – the world’s largest online mindfulness fundraising campaign (it builds clean-water projects in developing countries). It has equipped thousands of people with the tools to make over their minds via its one-month program. Her new book, The Happiness Plan, promises readers a roadmap to living calmer, more fulfilling lives.
Bialylew describes mindfulness as a means of building your “psychological immune system”; it’s about moving away from the unhelpful, cyclical negative thinking that can distract us from our goals and that can contribute to anxiety and depression.
“Whether it’s loops of worry, planning into the future, replaying events from the past or being caught up in self-judgment, mindfulness brings a quality of awareness to our mind, which protects us from the extra suffering we can create for ourselves,” says Bialylew. “[Through mindfulness] we open up possibilities for greater mental health and happiness and are empowered to be the master rather than slave of our mind.”
Even a few minutes of mindful meditation a day is proven to help people manage stress, communicate more clearly, stay focussed, sleep better and live by their values. Mindfulness lets us “see more clearly and be more aware of what’s happening within us and around us in the world”, Bialylew says, by helping us acknowledge our emotions and thoughts and responding to them, instead of reacting.
Here are her tips for weaving it into your day-to-day, and meditating in the mundane.
Tune in to your senses
“Mindfulness meditation isn’t just about taking 10 or 20 minutes out of your day to meditate and then being chaotic and unmindful the rest of the day – it’s really a way of life,” says Bialylew.
While a short meditation is a great place to start (and there are plenty of apps to help you, such as Calm or Headspace), learning to tune in to your five senses will help bring you back to the here and now.
Breath in. What can you see, smell, hear, taste and feel?
Converse with care
Listening can be a form of meditation as well, says Bialylew, and it’s important to pay attention to the whole person in front of you.
“Notice the sound and rhythm of their voice and their facial expressions,” she says. “Notice your mind drifting off into fantasy or thinking while the person is speaking and bring your attention back to the words they are [saying]. Notice your urge to speak, and see if you can allow for more space in the conversation.”
You can even meditate at breakfast, lunch and dinner by paying attention to what’s on your plate, quite literally.
What are you eating? What colour and shape is it? What does it smell like? Are you swallowing too fast?
When you’re eating, “[bring] awareness to the sensation of chewing and the flavours, textures and temperatures in your mouth,” Bialylew says. “Be aware of the mind being hijacked from the experience of eating and gently bring it back to the flavours of the food.”
Wash away the day
Bialylew suggests taking something you do regularly or daily, such as showering, and tying it to meditation.
“Tune in to the sensations of water and temperature on your skin,” she says. “Notice when your mind wanders off and gently bring it back to the sensations of your body.”
Walk with purpose
Even your stroll to work can be mindful – and not just by avoiding the cracks in the concrete.
“Feel your feet making contact with the ground,” she says. “Notice what it feels like to walk a little slower if you’re not actually in a rush. Take in your surroundings, the smells, the colours, the sounds. Use mindful walking between meetings to create a moment of mindfulness in your day.”
Be grateful for the gym (no, really)
A lot of people deliberately zone out of their bodies while they’re sweating it out at the gym, but Bialylew advises doing the opposite.
“Notice the kind of thoughts that arise when you are exerting yourself, like, ‘This is so hard’ or ‘I’m too tired’,” she says. “Let go of the thoughts and bring your attention back the actual feeling of your muscles as you exercise. Bring curiosity to the sensation of your muscles burning as you exert yourself.”
You might even want to take a moment to thank your body; after all, it’s a pretty miraculous thing.
Just like your body, your mind can be trained, and “like physical exercise, the more you do it the fitter you get, the more time you dedicate to meditation the more significant the benefits.”
Want more tips? Read the rest of the spring-cleaning series here, including “How to Spring Clean Your House”. We spoke to a KonMari expert and asked her how to ditch the mess and make your home a spotless sanctuary.