In today's go-go-go world, we're often encouraged by health professionals and wellness experts to slow down, breathe and reflect.
Not only is this good for our parasympathetic nervous system, but it also benefits our brain, our digestion… basically all our bodily functions.
But if you're not sure where to begin, being 'mindful' sounds pretty vague. And if your brain is rushing with work stress, parenting to-dos, and friends you were meant to catch up with, your mind actually might not seem like the most relaxing place to be.
Olivia Scott is offering guidance. She's a reiki practitioner, energy healer and coach who runs one-on-one in-clinic and virtual sessions to aid stressed-out Kiwis.
"After a year of heightened anxiety, change and uncertainty, many are now experiencing the repercussions of an overloaded nervous system, and looking for new ways to manage stress or recover from the year that has been," Scott tells Newshub.
She points out that mindfulness has been found to increase resilience under stress, improve the relationship with self and others, protect attention and working memory, produce structural changes in the brain to slow brain-related atrophy, sharpen wellbeing, empathy, improve physiological health and according to new studies been shown to help prevent relapse in depression.
Scott says practising mindfulness techniques allows us to "introduce space around our thoughts and slow down reaction to our environments".
"Getting off the hamster wheel of life and knowing where to start is often the hardest step. From there, regular mindfulness practice will begin to accumulate in benefits," she says.
"It's not a quick fix, but a short regular practice will accumulate over months and the benefits will show. Think of it like physical exercise, and your mind is the muscle growing stronger with each workout."
She's put together six things to focus on when trying to bring more mindfulness into your everyday life.
Routine is a way we can create perceived stability, consistency and safety we can control. Not only does a healthy routine create positive daily patterns, it allows us to start and continue the day in a way that feels productive.
Create a morning routine that allows for a positive start, ie a nourishing breakfast, some form of movement, or you may like to also use this time to give yourself encouragement, like "today will be productive", or "I am excited to see what comes my way today".
Create an evening routine an hour or so you go to bed, allowing your body to start winding down and bring awareness to closing down the day. You might like to set an alarm on your phone so that your body becomes familiar with this process at the same time each night. You can introduce rituals to this process like lighting a candle, reading a book, turning the lights down low, turning off the TV or putting on a meditation.
Observe the five senses
At any point in your day you find yourself overwhelmed, come back to observing the five senses by asking yourself:
- What can I hear?
- What can I smell?
- What can I taste?
- What can I feel?
- What can I see?
This will drop you out of the head and into the body. There is always a lot more going on here than we realise.
'Box breathing' is a simple breathing technique that connects you back to your body and can help to alleviate stress and anxiety.
- Inhale for four counts
- Hold for four counts
- Exhale for four counts
- Hold for four counts
Repeat 10 times.
Quiet time for contemplation and reflection
Book yourself some time to slow down. Our nervous system needs space to recalibrate, away from the to-do list. This could be sitting with a hot drink, going for a slow walk, putting away technology, stretching or sitting in nature. This puts our body into the essential function of rest and digest.
This mindfulness technique is a way of writing down our feelings, whether that is through using journaling prompts or free-flow writing. You can start with writing about your day, your week, or bullet-pointing things that are at the top of your mind. Let yourself be guided intuitively, and enjoy this cathartic process of putting pen to paper.
This one is especially good if you have a tendency to overthink.
Start by downloading an app like Insight Timer or Headspace. They have thousands of different meditations available to any level, from guided meditations, to breath, yoga nidra, or specifically designed for sleep, breathing, anxiety, self love or restoring connection to self.