Want to live the best life? Who doesn't, right? But, how do we get there? And in the process of reaching for our potential, how do we keep our minds focused on what we want to achieve?
The quick answer is adding a mindfulness practice to your daily life. The best part is, unlike a lot of things in life, you can achieve huge benefits with just five to 10 minutes of regular practice.
Mindfulness can be a nuanced topic and there are many ways to practice it. Ultimately, what you are trying to do is live life in the present, and don't let the past or the future cloud what is happening for you right now.
Sounds easy, yet many people don't know where to begin or what to do and can get frustrated because they think they need to be perfect at it. The truth is you don't have to be perfect, just be in the present moment.
I have heard people say they don't have time to add mindfulness to their lives; right away that should cause alarm bells to ring. We should all be able to take 5-10 minutes a day, where we can unplug, unwind and limit our distractions.
I have also heard people say that they can't "meditate" because all they think about is all the stuff they have going on in life. This is true for everyone; the mind wanders because that is what minds do.
When we add mindfulness to our lives, we are trying to breathe and focus on the present and not worry about the past, or the future. The mind will wander, but what we want to do is realize it has wandered, and immediately go back to focused attention to the body and breath.
There are numerous ways to practice mindfulness. One technique to start your journey is to find a place to sit on the floor and make yourself comfortable. Set a timer, making sure it's set and then placed out of reach, so you aren't looking to see how much time you have left.
Then sitting upright, against a wall if needed, you inhale for a count of four and then exhale for a count of six. It really is that simple, count the inhales and the exhales.
Whenever the mind starts to think about something else, you realise it has wandered and you just come back to counting. Once the timer beeps, you're done.
By adding mindfulness to your life, you can gain these benefits:
1. It reduces stress – Life can be switched on and so adding 5-10 minutes a day of mindfulness reduces stress. Studies show that mindfulness helps self-regulate emotions in the brain building resiliency when life gets challenging.
2. It improves concentration – Mindful techniques train the mind to focus on the present and through this training, memory and mental awareness increase. When we can concentrate better, we can increase our efficiency with our day because we can stay on task. As result, less time is spent looking for distractions.
3. It encourages a healthy lifestyle – As you focus on creating a vibrant healthy mind, your body will want to follow. This can lead to making decisions that lead to better food choices and exercise because if the inside of the body and mind feel better, then the body will want to reflect what's happening on the inside.
4. It increases happiness and satisfaction with life – Studies have shown that through mindfulness, brain signalling increases in the left side of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for positive emotions, while activity decreases in the right side, responsible for negative emotions. The result is finding satisfaction in yourself and clearing the negative emotions and feelings that can crop up from time to time.
Make your well-being a priority with taking 5-10 minutes a day to be quiet, live in the present, focus on your breathing, and just be. All it takes is making it a consistent practice.
If you forget, or it isn't perfect, that's okay; continue to practice mindfulness anyway. It will get easier and it will be something you will want to do every day because you will see and feel its benefits.
■ Tim Seutter is a firefighter, yoga teacher and manager at The Loft Yoga and Pilates Studio, Whangarei.