Mindfulness: the benefits of being present

Mindfulness has been a trendy topic for the past couple of years or so, from colouring books and puzzles, to meditation and breathing exercises. I came across mindfulness back in 2016 and would like to share what I’ve learnt over the years.

Let’s start with a backstory on how I got into mindfulness

I came across mindfulness at a time I’m where I felt very anxious and confused about what I wanted from my life. 

The truth is, I’m a planner. 

Overall, I like to be well prepared and I’ve always been a little bit of a control freak. However, there came a point in my life where I was going through a difficult phase. I had leaks at home and stressful events at work. In addition to this, I started experiencing unexpected health problems. This is something that I will expand in a future post. 

There was a lot going on and everything started spinning. I felt overwhelmed.

Learning about mindfulness helped me to organise my thoughts. I started taking notice of my thoughts, at times even naming them. Being present taught me that I don’t need to force myself to always feel good. I gave myself permission to feel less good and that’s absolutely fine.

Over the course of two years, I started practising daily. I became so comfortable with the subject that I had the opportunity to deliver workshops to fundraisers on the benefits of mindfulness.

"Being present taught me that I don't need to force myself to always feel good. It's ok not to feel ok." Ellie Amaro, Streamlined Minds

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about being present in what we are doing. We develop a sense of awareness of the self and our surroundings. This involves awareness of thoughts, feelings, movement and more. 

Even though mindfulness gained popularity more recently, this practice has roots in Buddhism from centuries ago. “Mindfulness” or “awareness” derives from the Pali word “Sati” which has been translated into English in the 1800s. This was perceived as an initial step towards enlightenment. Although largely associated with Buddhism, this sense of awareness and mindfulness can be found in other religions and practices too. 

Clinical psychologists gained an interest in mindfulness back in the 1970s. Throughout the years, the practice has evolved and there are plenty of empirical studies on its effects on wellbeing. 

How can I start?

The good news is that this is available to us at all times. We don’t need to take a course or follow a program to learn about mindfulness. Sure this can be helpful, but there are some things you can try immediately with little effort.

Try a simple breathing exercise

  1. Sit down with both feet on the floor, straight back and hands on your thighs
  2. Breathe in through your nose whilst mentally counting to four
  3. Hold your breath for four seconds
  4. Breathe out through your mouth whilst mentally counting to four again
  5. Repeat a few times.

This is the easiest and most straightforward mindfulness exercise I came across when I started practicing. 

Try a guided meditation

I’ve added below a 5-minute meditation. This could be seen as the next step after the breathing exercise. It’s a short one to start and with time you can build up from here.

My brain doesn’t switch off. I can’t do this.

Like anything else in life, this is a skill that requires practice. Don’t be alarmed if you find that you fall asleep or your mind becomes loud. It’s really common. It may also feel uncomfortable to suddenly start trying to be aware if this is not a natural place for you to be in.

If you find that you keep getting distracted, acknowledge your thought. Take a mental note and let it go.

What are the benefits?

Mindfulness started being used in Western medicine in the 1970s. Multiple physicians studied the practice and its benefits across various disciplines. Some of the main benefits which have been scientifically proven are:

  • Relieve stress
  • Lower heart rate
  • Decrease anxiety and depression
  • Increase confidence and self-esteem
  • Enhance focus in children and adults alike

I have experienced many of these first-hand. I’m significantly more self-aware, I spend more time in the present and experience fewer distractions. Generally, I feel happier and more resilient than ever before.

Mindfulness can be a very powerful tool. Just take your time to explore what works for you.

Some extra reading:

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Photo of Ellie Amaro, author of Streamlined Minds

Hello, I’m Ellie. I’m passionate about all things wellbeing. I’m on a journey to streamline my mind by adopting a more intentional lifestyle. You’ll find me writing on various topics, from diet and buying habits, to mental, physical and emotional clutter.

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