Mindfulness is one of the simplest methods of staying attuned with your body and supporting your wellbeing. There are many different interpretations of mindfulness but Rick Hanson, editor of Resilient, describes it as “the key to regulating your attention so that you get the most beneficial experiences while limiting the impact of stressful, harmful ones. It enables you to recognize where your attention has gone.” The NHS describes it as “reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you.”
There are many forms of mindful practice – it doesn’t have to be meditation. Every day activities can be done in a mindful way, by being present and in the moment. Chopping vegetables mindfully, making a cup of tea mindfully, even breathing. We all breathe, about 22,000 breaths per day, but most people don’t take the time to concentrate on it. In fact, by simply spending a minute focusing on your breathing, you will experience wonderful benefits to both your physical and mental health.
My go to for everyday mindful practice is colouring with my children. I find it extremely therapeutic. In addition, as a reflexologist, when doing a treatment, I work around my client’s foot. I methodically work through my routine, completely and utterly in the moment, getting myself into a meditative state. It is not only my clients that benefit from the treatment, but I finish a session feeling relaxed and calm.
Mindfulness is about bringing your full awareness into the here and now, making it impossible to worry about what happened in the past, or anxious about what is to come in the future. In fact, eight weeks of mindfulness can cause “changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.” It reduces anxiety levels, increases productivity and helps us engage our rational thinking part of the brain rather than our reptilian reactive part. These changes are incredible to support your mental and physical health helping your wellbeing to remain balanced.
Mindful practice is something available to us all and free…so why do we often forget to incorporate it into our daily routine?
With record numbers of children and young people…seeking access to NHS mental health services…almost double pre-pandemic levels, according to the report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists we should be encouraging them to participate in mindful practice too. Doing this, along with teaching children and young people to spot the signs of stress building up, will help to support their mental health. The tightening of the shoulders, increased blood pressure, a ‘funny tummy’. If they are aware of their bodies and when they are entering into a stress cycle, they can use methods of mindfulness to help work through that cycle.
Awareness “helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better. If we don’t deal with the stress, and get stuck in that cycle for long periods of time, this can lead to anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is a recommended practice by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for someone who may be depressed. If we are aware of our bodies, and try to keep our mind in the here and now, this will help us to deal with those unexpected but inevitable challenges life throws at us.
It isn’t always easy to get into the right headspace to do mindful practice though. Personally I struggle to meditate as my mind always wanders off to my giant to-do list – Have I bought a gift for the kid’s party this weekend? Did I reply to that last email? Have I fed the dog yet? But as Rick Hanson continues, “mindfulness is a kind of mental muscle, and you can strengthen it by making it a regular part of daily life…strengthen your attention by doing something you love, such as a craft or a crossword puzzle, that requires concentration.”
Crafting is a fantastic method to help one concentrate on the present moment and be mindful. The “calming effects of sewing can help people express and heal themselves” with studies showing the benefits creativity can have on your wellbeing, in particular the “mesmeric immersion” of crafting. With us being more disconnected with ourselves and physically distant from each other than ever before due to technology and social media, “sewing is a safeguard to isolation…hand and mind working in harmony.”
In addition to being incredible for your wellbeing, textiles and working with recycled materials is topical when thinking about the planet. If we can alter old clothes, adapt and give new life to existing materials, rather than buying new, we are ultimately helping our world.
Coram’s Voices Through Time programme has a new creative project for care experienced young people called ‘A Stitch in Time’. This involves exploring the history of the Foundling Hospital through textiles, creating a piece that will be exhibited in the Foundling Museum, but also tour around a number of other museums with a geographical link to the hospital. Those that get involved between 16 October – 20 November will get the chance to learn some fantastic new skills such as lino cut printing, hand sewing, drawing, applique, batik (using hot wax) and yarn dyeing.
I therefore want to encourage any young people with care experience to get involved. The NHS recommends learning a new skill to support good mental health. “Research shows that learning new skills can…improve your mental wellbeing by boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem, helping you to build a sense of purpose, [and] helping you to connect with others,” So please do get involved!
In everyday life, our body is always present but our mind is often elsewhere. Through mindful practice, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “bring your mind home to your body…and when mind and body are together, you are established in the here and the now. You are fully alive. You are fully present. And that makes true life possible.”