Maybe you’ve seen numerous zen-looking people on Instagram practising mindfulness and, after a particularly stressful day at work, thought to yourself: “I need me some of that”.
The idea behind meditation and mindfulness isn’t necessarily about becoming a certain way, but about learning who and what you are, and about how you work. And there are many areas of your life that can indeed benefit from it.
We spoke to meditation teacher and mindfulness expert Emma Mills, who said that every part of meditation increases you overall self awareness.
“When you’re able to see how you work, how you operate and your little ways, then you have an increased awareness of them, and there’s less of a tendency to react based on habit,” explains Emma.
“There’s more of an ability to see what’s occurring and to choose consciously how to proceed. That has benefits on your emotions, on how you feel in your body and how you get on at work and with other people.”
Here’s a further look at how starting to practice mindfulness – even just a couple of minutes of sitting down and taking deep breaths – could be beneficial to areas of your life.
The main benefit of mindfulness on your work life is that, if you meditate regularly, you become more sensitive.
“And then in your subsequent dealings throughout the day you have that increased sensitivity to whatever it is you’re doing,” explains Mills.
She gives an example of going into meetings at work.
“If you’ve been meditating regularly, it tends to give you an ability to be more present with people and things and a greater capacity to listen.”
Not only that, but mindfulness can also help with the ideas that you put forward to your colleagues – your creativity.
“If you imagine that when you sit down to do a piece of work, you might sit round and think of what’s been done before or how you’ve done things before. Whereas when you’re more familiar with meditation, you have more of an openness to something new.
“That seems to be a good thing for work, to have new ideas and new ways to work and finding solutions.”
Mills adds: “I do find that doing a bit of meditation just to day to day in advance of your work situation tends to build a muscle, build an openness and sensitivity – that then becomes available at other times.”
Mills says the overarching theme with mindfulness is that you become gentler with people.
“And also with yourself,” she adds. “Let’s say you are mindful and you’re aware, and then you practice a bit of mindfulness every day and you get to know about yourself.
“When you learn about yourself and when you see your little ways…you learn you need to give yourself a bit of leeway.”
But Mills admits this can be difficult, especially with close intimate relationships, because old habits come up and idiosyncrasies. “But it can be a nice opportunity to watch your own reactions and the role that you play in a situation,” she says.
And it’s all about understanding yourself better. “When you prioritise understanding, the purpose can be because you want to have harmonious relations.
“But it can also be broader – in a sense of, where there’s understanding there’s personal growth, usually.”
When you meditate more regularly, you become more sensitive to the world – “people you interact with, and your emotions, and you can also become more sensitive to your body,” Mills says.
And in turn this could possibly help you change things about your diet.
“Let’s say you eat a creme egg. Ad then maybe after you’ve eaten it – in the immediate, and few days after – rather than being like ‘oh I’ve had a creme egg, that’s it”, there’s more of a sensitivity,” Emma said.
“You’re able to think, ‘Does that feel right?’ Do i now feel full of vitality? Or do i now feel tired?’ And there might be an inclination after to think, perhaps I’ll eat more of that, or less of that, because that’s what felt good or not good.”
Mills is keen to point out that this isn’t rule of thumb and it’s dependent on the person. But generally speaking, mindfulness can help you be more sensitive about choosing foods that feel good – and it can help you to savour and really enjoy the food that you do eat.
Mills adds: “On a grander scheme, there’s a sensitivity to the planet and an awareness of where the food came from, and who grew it, and the impact that’s had.
“There’s greater awareness of what you’re doing and what you’re eating and how it influences you and everyone else.”
If you give yourself up to be in the moment while exercising, say while going for a run, then you may actually enjoy it more.
“If you’re doing a run, and you’re not resisting it, and you just give yourself up to it, then the task becomes less labour some. And then you get to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing.
“Usually, when you’re engaged fully in something, that normally feels quite good.”
And really trying to give yourself up to the exercise can help, even if just before the run there’s a bit of resistance.
“If there’s acceptance, it’s less of a chore, and you maybe do a better job,” suggests Mills.
5. Organisation skills
Mills says there could be a benefit from mindfulness when it comes to day-to-day life – life admin, shall we say.
She gives the example of waking up on your day off, when maybe your mind is all full of thoughts and you’re preoccupied with them.
“There’s not enough space in your mind,” she says. “You feel like you’re preoccupied in some way, and then there is occasions when it might feel harder to then organise yourself, whether it’s tidying up or doing paperwork, because you’re already full.
“And it can feel difficult to make a kind of clear, logical decision about what’s the best thing to do it and then do it. Some days are like that.”
But this is where meditating regularly could come in handy, Mills says.
“It shouldn’t be an expectation, but it can be a benefit – there’s a spaciousness that comes from meditating and from that place of feeling spacious, it’s then easier to choose what to do and then organise yourself.”
It’s back to that idea of using mindfulness to get to know yourself better again.
“From observing yourself and getting to know yourself, you maybe can say – is it because I’m preoccupied that i’m no able to do this? And maybe you take up meditation or relaxation exercises to help you feel clear.”
So, now we know how mindfulness could benefit us, what are Mills’ tips for how to start practising it?
“Even if you sit down maybe just for a few moments each day, whether it’s first thing in the morning or any time, just close your eyes and take some nice easy breaths,” she says.
“Take your hand on your tummy and just feel the breaths coming in and out and in that moment you are there, and you are aware.”
You can buy Emma’s book – Inhale · Exhale · Repeat: A meditation handbook for every part of your day – from March 9 for £9.99.