May is Mental Health Month and we want to bring some attention to tools to help you support your mental health. While the term “mindfulness” was almost nonexistent just a few years ago, these practices have rightfully taken their place in our wellness routines.
In this blog, we’ll discuss 7 mindfulness practices to help you keep your calm so you can prevent stress and your chances of illness, and perform at your best.
1. Set an intention
As we’ve discussed in past blogs, preparing yourself for the day ahead can do wonders for our mental and emotional health. At the start of the day, sit in a relaxed posture, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself, “What is my intention for today?” or you can say “I will…” statements to yourself. You could also journal if you prefer to do this practice in the evening.
Before heading into important meetings, set a mental intention for the outcome. At any moment when you feel you’ve lost control over what you’re doing, take a pause and set an intention for your next step. This is a must for multi-taskers who often lose their way!
2. Eat and drink mindfully
With many of us working from home, it can be tempting to keep working and eating meals or drinking coffee at our desks. Eating too fast increases your risk of overeating and other digestive issues, which will further cause negative moods.
This is your reminder to just eat and drink when you are doing so. When you sit down to eat, notice the colour of your food, pay attention to what you're eating—smell, taste, and texture—chew your food before swallowing, and be grateful for your meal. Your gut will thank you for it!
Being mindful of healthy and delicious foods and beverages will also ensure you have positive feelings as you eat or drink.
Besides improving your brain function, listening fully helps us break away from focusing only on ourselves. Minimizing your internal dialogue will help you see others’ perspectives, be more thoughtful in your response, and create more space and stillness in your conversations.
Gentle yin yoga or qi gong—a system of coordinated body posture and movements—both involve deliberate postures, breathing, and an emphasis on awareness that can help you be a better listener.
4. Mindful exercise
Being mindful while exercising is a great way to engage both mind and body. No matter what you’re doing, you can move and breathe in a way that shifts you from feeling busy and distracted towards feeling strong.
Yoga encourages you to be aware and focused on your movements and breath. You can start your practice by simply noticing what it feels to put your feet on a yoga mat. Whether it’s tying your running shoes, getting on your bike, or entering a swimming pool, set an intention for your exercise.
Align your breath to your movements, and note how you feel when you challenge yourself in speed, repetitions or weight, then slow down. If you’re just taking a walk, notice your feet on the ground, how your body weight shifts from one leg to the other, and how your arms feel when you move them.
Practice naming your feelings and sensations, and you’ll feel more alive whenever you exercise.
5. Meditation—or be still
There are many types of meditation out there, but in its simplest form, it involves sitting still and quietly and closing your eyes. Some practices add an intentional breathing element, and others involve guided meditation to help direct your thoughts, which naturally arise. Some choose to meditate on a cushion on the floor, but you can sit upright in a comfortable chair or use a reclining chair.
Once you find a practice that works for you, aim for a daily meditation practice. You might find you’ll want to increase the frequency of it, perhaps once in the morning, and again in the early evening.
If you find closing your eyes doesn’t help you break negative thought patterns, reduce stress and anxiety, or sharpen your focus (all benefits of mindfulness), try focusing on a single object for a period (more on this below). You can also do this as you walk, ideally in a quiet place like a forest trail with minimal distractions.
6. See mindfully
The “name game” is a great practice for mindfulness that therapists use just before bringing someone into hypnosis. It involves sitting (or standing) still, looking around you, and naming three things you can hear, two things you can see, and one sensation you feel.
Another practice involves sitting with a candle and watching the flame sway and flicker. Gaze at the candle for 5 to 10 minutes and let thoughts come and go in your mind. You can do this with any object or simply look out the window at the nature you can see outside.
If you prefer sound, ring a bell, chime, or singing bowl once, listen to the sound, and observe when you can't hear it anymore. Playing a sound game with children and asking them to identify 10 sounds that they can hear gets them engaged—and focused—quickly.
Breathwork is an excellent mindfulness practice you can do any time of day. Try taking three long, deep breaths: in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and belly as you breathe. This is a great way to relax just before you eat to encourage digestion and take time with your food.
You can explore other breathing techniques like the four count method: breathe in for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and repeat 5 times.
If you want to challenge yourself to relax throughout the day, use visual signals as a reminder to take a deep breath. For example, do it each time you get into an elevator, step into your office, or when your phone rings. If you’re stuck in traffic, this is a great time to practice breathwork!
All the best for your mindfulness practices to keep your calm.