The number one reason for visiting the Lake District is to take in the peaceful and inspiring scenery. And there’s no better place for ‘being present and fully focused in each moment’, which is what the practice of mindfulness is all about. Mindfulness is about seeking a calmer life by controlling our busy minds with thoughts constantly racing through, like some out of control super-highway.
On holiday in the Lakes, it’s so easy to step off the hustle and bustle of everyday life, whiling hours away with our thoughts focused on nothing other than the glorious views. Back at home, our minds tend to be little worker bees that are always one step ahead and often leave us feeling overwhelmed and quite frankly, frazzled.
Actively trying to stay ‘in the moment’ has proven benefits for helping maintain positive mental health and for all ages, so this week we’re giving it a focus with some tips on weaving it into everyday life.
To gain long-term benefits from mindfulness it really is best to make the art of being mindful part of daily life. This means being realistic about how much time you can devote to mindfulness.
For beginners, we’d recommend choosing an activity that you already do daily, such as brushing your teeth and spend this time focusing on the moment, not letting your mind wander elsewhere.
Whilst you are driving is another great time to start forming your mindful habit.
You’ll quickly get hooked, and can make focused mindfulness part of your daily or weekly routine, perhaps starting with 10 minutes every morning after a shower when you’re nice and warm.
There’s no wrong or right time to practice mindfulness, you just need to commit to it daily.
When you decide you’re going to have a go at mindfulness, the biggest tip is to understand your goal - and this is most definitely not having zero thoughts whatsoever.
For zen-experts who have been practicing daily for decades, then this is perhaps possible.
The reality for when you are starting your mindful journey is that you will still have the billion thoughts that our marvelous brains have each minute, but once you have mastered mindfulness you will be able to control these thoughts and not let them control you.
The analogy of watching buses go by but not getting on one is often used to understand mindfulness.
You are standing on the side of a busy road with lots of buses going by. You watch them but do not get on any. When you are practising mindfulness, the buses are thoughts that you are aware are passing through your mind but you do not engage with any of them.
Each one you let slip by, without judgment. This takes effort, to begin with. But like anything, practice makes perfect!
If you or your family are feeling overwhelmed, a super-easy way to return your focus and bring calm to your day is to all take three big sighs out.
Or, you can take three deep breaths, making the out-breath longer. Hopefully calm will be restored!
This is good to do with kids after screen-time to help transition from the over-stimulation of the iPad, Switch or Disney+ !
One of the main reasons for beginning to master mindfulness is to help mental wellbeing by managing unhelpful emotions such as anxiety, low motivation, stress, anger or fear, which can lead to mental exhaustion and burn out. Our emotions are controlled by our thoughts, so learning to control our thoughts is the key to emotional stability.
They sometimes have a very important role to play, for example, we feel fear when we get too close to the edge of a mountain top, which helps keep us safe. However, sometimes we have overactive thoughts that are not helpful - I wonder how my daughter will get on with her presentation at work today? Those plummeting share prices are a real worry for my pension. Did I turn the oven off before I left the house? We all know those niggling thoughts that can quickly lead into fear, panic and flailing headless chicken syndrome! Use mindfulness to return to calm and to stop your mind from being hijacked.
When your brain is free from ‘over-thinking’ and we are ‘present’ we become more playful, forgiving, patient, kind and generally more fun to be around - even when we are not on holiday in the Lakes!
When you are practicing mindfulness as well as the bus analogy, it is helpful to choose a ‘centre’ to focus on and to return to it, and likely when, your mind begins to wander.
For many, focusing on the breath works well. Noticing your chest rising and falling.
Take this one step further by putting one hand on your chest and one on your tummy.
Try to breathe down deep into your stomach, so your lower hand rises and falls as you inhale and exhale. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth if you can.
Alternatively, focus on the sounds around you, no matter how insignificant they are, like the hum of a refrigerator or traffic outside.
The best way of passing mindfulness on to all the whole family is through role-modeling. Once you have regularly practiced mindfulness, the skills will become second nature. You will likely feel calmer, kinder, more playful as well as more patient, and the kids will pick up on this and mimic your mood.
There are plenty of digi-options too, for tech-minded kids - we love the super-cute, Moshi Sleep app. The Headspace app has hugely popularised meditating and mindfulness and whilst it has a subscription option, the free version is great for getting you going on your mindful journey. They also have lots of mindful practices designed especially for our lovely hyper kids, separated into ages ‘5 and under’, ‘6-8’ and ‘9-12’, so everyone can take part.
As you start to pick up mindfulness, you’ll begin to get more out of simple experiences, like having dinner around the table together or painting rainbows.