Sit-ups for the mind
by Ellen Hart, Policy and Research Coordinator
- April 19, 2021
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Photo by Ellen Hart
How many things are you thinking about right now? Are you planning out dinner, wondering what the capital of Zimbabwe is (it’s Harare by the way) while also reminding yourself that you have to pay that electricity bill? It’s normal for our minds to spend a lot of time thinking, reflecting and planning, but sometimes this can make us feel stressed or disconnected from what is happening right there in the moment. We all have the ability to be more present in our daily lives, but like becoming physically fitter, it’s something we have to put a little bit of effort into.
Mindfulness is about being fully present and aware of what we are doing and where we are instead of being focused on yesterday, tomorrow, or our worries. Mindfulness practice can be done every day to complement other activities or might be used on a day off from physical activity as a way of staying connected to your body on rest days.
Regularly practicing mindfulness has been linked to many benefits for the mind and body, including:
- Increasing motivation
- Improving our ability to deal with illness
- Helping us to recover after we have been unwell
- Decreasing stress and anxiety
There are many ways to be mindful and a lot of apps out there that can guide you. I recommend Smiling Mind, which was developed by Beyond Blue – this means it’s free, made in Australia, has no ads and is based on the best available science! If you prefer a low-tech approach, mindful breathing or walking are a great way to practice being mindful by yourself at home. You don’t have to go "full yogi" – even just a few minutes a day of regular practice can be beneficial.
While mindful breathing isn’t for everyone, particularly those with PTSD or a background of trauma*, it’s a great entry point to mindfulness for many people. We suggest 2-3 minutes if you’re just getting started, but you can adjust this according to what works for you. Here’s how:
- Sit in a comfortable spot with zero/minimal distractions
- Put a timer on for the length of time you would like to try mindful breathing
- Close your eyes
- Breathe in through your nose for the count of four seconds, hold for two seconds and then breathe out through your mouth for the count of six seconds
- Focus on your breath entering and leaving your body
- Once you feel settled start to bring your attention to the interaction between your breath and your body. For example, is the air a bit cooler when entering through your nose and bit warmer when leaving your body? How does it feel when the air enters your lungs? Notice the rise and fall of your belly as the air moves in and out.
- If you are distracted by thoughts or feelings, this is ok – it’s perfectly normal! Don’t try to push the thoughts away, just allow them to drift past like a cloud and gently bring your attention back to your breathing
- Continue with this until the timer goes off
Mindful walking is a great way to have a break from work or sitting, stretch your legs and calm your mind. How long you do it for is up to you, we suggest 2-5 minutes if you’re new to this. You can walk around your house or in your backyard, whatever space you can find. Here’s how:
- Turn off all distractions (TV, music, mute phone/email).
- Stand up straight with your back upright but not stiff.
- Feel your feet touching the ground and let your weight distribute evenly.
- Curl the thumb of your left hand in and wrap your fingers around it. Place it just above your belly button. Wrap your right hand around it, resting your right thumb in the crevice formed between your left thumb and index finger (this helps you balance and keeps your swinging arms from being a distraction).
- Drop your gaze slightly. This helps to maintain focus.
- Step out with your left foot. Feel it swing, feel the heel hit the ground, now the ball, now the toes.
- Feel the same as the right foot comes forward
- Walk at a steady pace, slightly slower than in daily life but not so slow as to feel unnatural.
- When your attention wanders, gently bring it back to the sensation of your feet touching the ground.
Photo by Ellen Hart
There are a lot of stressful things happening in the world right now that are out of our control which can feel overwhelming. Practicing mindfulness can put us back in control of our thoughts and feelings and help us to de-stress. With many people working from home and not going out as much, we also have more time to try new things! Mindfulness is FREE, you can do it anywhere and you might just find it becomes your new favourite hobby!
There are plenty of different guided mindfulness sessions to try on the Smiling Mind app and many more ways to be mindful in your everyday life. We can practice being mindful when we eat, exercise, cook or spend time with our family. See if you can tap into your new mindfulness skills in different aspects of your life.
*People who experience psychosis, PTSD or who have had significant trauma in their lives should speak to their doctor or health care professional before trying mindfulness.