A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness

How to keep a healthy mind in 2016

how to look after your mind

Words by Lisa Hughes
January 12th, 2016

If you missed the mindfulness train in 2015, never fear – this is one wellbeing trend that isn’t going away. In fact, mindfulness is destined to become even more popular in 2016 and bookstore shelves are heaving with guides about everything from mindful eating to mindful walking and colouring. So, if you’re craving a little Zen in your life, here’s everything you need to know about becoming more mindful.

Far from being a modern buzzword, Buddhist monks have been practising mindfulness for over 2,500 years but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the West twigged to the health benefits of this form of meditation. Flash forward to 2016 and corporations like Google and the US army are offering mindfulness to employees, while in the UK the NHS has recognised the effectiveness of mindfulness-based CBT to help depression and anxiety. Pretty impressive. Mindfulness isn’t just for stressed-out adults (even though it’s excellent for that); more and more schools in Ireland and the UK are bringing mindfulness into the classroom, as a way to help kids to cope with anxiety and to concentrate better.

So, what is mindfulness and how will it help your already crazy busy life? Put simply, mindfulness is about being aware of your feelings and thoughts in the moment. So, instead of being distracted by ‘what ifs’ and possible future scenarios and drifting through each day on autopilot, you learn to take a deep breath and feel what you’re feeling in the present. Instead of multi-tasking, mindfulness teaches you to focus on one thing at a time and recognise your feelings.

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But if you’re expecting instant Nirvana, think again. Mindfulness expert Clodagh McCarthy of Brightsparkscoaching.ie says, “Becoming mindful can be challenging for people as when we begin to become more aware in our lives, we become aware of the whole spectrum of what it means to be human; what is pleasant, unpleasant and everything in between. Mindfulness helps us to be more ‘awake’ and that brings many benefits but also some challenges.”

Sitting quietly, breathing, paying attention to your body and focusing your mind sounds easy but stopping your mind from wandering off to your weekend plans or what to have for lunch – never mind finding 15 minutes a day to actually do it – is a challenge. Clodagh continues, “People realise fairly quickly as they begin to practice that it is not so easy to ‘be present, be in the present moment’. The mind has other ideas and soon wanders off! This is part of learning to be mindful by learning to gently draw our attention back to whatever we are currently focusing on. A gentle persistence and patience are required.”

This patience pays off because mindfulness devotees say their daily 15 minutes decreases stress, trains your mind to focus so you can give your friends, family and other half your full attention for a change and it gives your mind a much-needed de-clutter. Not bad for 15 minutes, right? A good tip is to start with one mindful minute – it can be while you walk home or eat your lunch – and download one of the helpful meditation apps like Calm.com, The Mindfulness App or Emma Watson’s personal favourite, Headspace, to get you started. A new, mindful you is just around the corner.

Find out how to look after your mind in part 2 of our mindfulness series here.