How to make small everyday shifts towards mindfulness.

If you’re anything like me, your mind probably seldom gives you a break. It’s always planning, analysing, judging, questioning, reassessing… It often doesn’t let up even when you sleep, resulting in restless nights where your dreams are anxious or you wake up in the dead of night remembering things you need to do.

On one level we know that our minds always being on full alert is probably not the healthiest way to be, but it seems impossible to try to slow down when there’s just so damn much to do. The thing is, the only way to battle that feeling of being off kilter with your life when you can’t quite see where you’re heading anymore, is to slow down. If you don’t learn to do this you’ll risk putting your health at mind at risk. Worst of all, you’ll end up living on auto-pilot and missing out on fully engaging with a life that flashes you by.

My search for living a life that feels balanced always circles back to mindfulness. When you are able to connect more thoroughly with the present moment, you will feel a sense of ease about things and like you’re fully involved with life again. There are many routes to being more mindful, from physical exercise to practical every day shifts, and gentle changes in the way you process things. Here are some of my favourites to try.

Make it a habit to pause

When you wake up, pause. Allow your mind to connect with your body before you jump out of bed. Before you eat, pause. Is the food in front of you what your body truly desires to work at its best? When someone calls you, pause. Let your phone ring for a little while and gather your thoughts before you answer. Same when receiving an email, resit the urge to reply right away. Pause and see how your thoughts develop when they are not coming from a purely reactionary place.

If you take up a habit of pausing with just one thing, make it this: when you experience a new emotion, pause. Allow yourself to feel it in your whole body before you react to it.

Pay more attention to your sensations

So much of our movement is habitual, the way we stand or walk just happens on auto-pilot, and we rarely pay much attention to it. Learning to pay attention to your own movement and the sensations your body creates, is a powerful way to teach your brain to pay more attention in all areas of life. You can start from small things such as the way you stand. When you’re queueing at the bank, pay attention to which foot most of your weight is on. Is it 50/50 or more like 70/30? Try shifting all your body weight to your other leg. How does it feel? Does your other side feel lighter or ‘emptier’? Then slowly shift back to the other side, trying to stay aware of how your weight shifts, identifying where it hits the midway balance and starts shifting more to the other side. Practice getting more and more aware of the ratios and how they feel, with the goal of being entirely familiar with how each ratio feels and how to shift it.

Be more intentional

We all have stuff we need to do. Every day. If you let your circumstances run you, you’ll soon feel like you’re in a rat race, whether you’re self-employed or bound to a day job. You can take some of that control back by deciding to do everything you do with more purpose. The fun thing is, you can choose your intention yourself. Say you need to walk across a busy town centre to get to your meeting. You can set your intention to be noticing how many smiles you come across on your journey (or even, how many smiles you can provoke!) or to notice all the pretty buildings you haven’t paid attention to before on that particular route. Pay attention to how you feel in your body and to your posture, and then set out on your mission to get from A to B with your new purpose. I guarantee that it will make your journey more enjoyable, and at the end of the day you’ll feel more like you’ve participated in your own life instead of just mindlessly rushing from one appointment to the next.

Be kind to yourself

Being able to change your habits and focus starts from within. If you don’t show yourself compassion when going through difficult experiences, it’s much easier to get stuck on negative habits and not find time for or space for your mind to be more creative (trust me, I speak from experience!). I’m sure you’ll agree that often we are our own harshest critic, or even worst enemy, when it comes to obstacles in life. Being kind to ourselves does not for some reason come naturally, so it can feel super hard to start doing it. Just think how much anxiety and depression could be alleviated by everyone showing just that much more compassion towards themselves. The more you practice being aware of your feelings and sensations, the easier self-compassion becomes.

Let your creativity guide you

You are uniquely positioned because you already have one of the most powerful tools in your repertoire, creativity. Make sure you leave time to use your art as a form of self-expression as well, not just the means for making a living. And let yourself be moved by the art of others. Always stay curious and aware of the emotions art provokes and releases, and you’ll develop a strong, non-judgmental, self-awareness that will help you nurture yourself.

I hope you’ll have a wonderful, self-nurturing 2016!

Marianne Taylor is a Certified Beloved Teacher, former Director of the Beloved Collective, the creator of Beloved Magazine and founder of Her Lovely Heart.