A basic definition of mindfulness is to be conscious and aware of the present moment. This is easier said than done especially when life can be so busy and chaotic.
How often do you find yourself in this situation – you’re driving and when you get to your destination, you barely remember the journey? This is called being on autopilot and it’s in this state that our mind wanders either to the past or the future. Research shows that we spend 47% of our time in this state, and this is where mindfulness comes in.
You may think that when your mind wanders and focuses on happy thoughts, happiness is inevitable; but research has shown otherwise. According to research by Harvard psychologist, Matt Killingsworth, who collected data from 15,000 individuals in over 80 countries, being present in the moment induced more happiness than being in the wandering state. It was also noted that negative emotions like stress, anxiety and depression were more prevalent when our minds wandered.
Is Mindfulness The Key?
Most of us have busy lives revolving around a career, family and social life and we spend an inordinate amount of time in front of a screen. This situation is ideal for falling into the wandering / autopilot state and we lose sight of what is happening in front of us. Being mindful is basically about taking control of our lives by being present and living in the moment. This may sound easy, but it does take practice and training to get to the point when it comes naturally.
Children and teenagers can benefit greatly from mindfulness particularly when navigating their way through relationships, school and becoming more independent with age. Growing up in the 21st century is stressful and with the strong influence of social media, can be quite nerve-wracking. Simple mindfulness techniques can teach essential skills like how to focus, deal with worries, and manage their behaviour and emotions.
Mindfulness For Children
We spoke to Eva Juric-Lim, a certified mindfulness teacher, about how mindfulness can help with family life, schoolwork and social skills and she had this to say:
“Practicing mindfulness is an important aspect for the wellbeing of your family. It can improve relationships by encouraging everyone to listen and place checks of automatic responses leading to less conflict. Even school performance improves due to having better memory and being able to deal with distractions.”
She went on to state that the point of teaching mindfulness to children is to equip them with the skills to develop awareness of their experiences, recognise thoughts as being ‘just thoughts’ (and that all of them are true), know how worries arise, understand how emotions manifest and provide tools to for reactive behaviour when attention has wandered. This may sound complicated, but the methodology to achieving all this is straightforward.
Many schools in the UK have already implemented mindfulness into their curriculum with students benefiting in all aspects of their life including better performance in class, at exams, on the sports field and even within their social lives. The Mindfulness in Schools project is a leading charity organisation training people to teach mindfulness, and have created a successful programme that is taught in schools.
In a study conducted by the University of Exeter, positive conclusions were reached regarding the effect of mindfulness on young people. These included improvement of mental, emotional, social and physical health; reduced stress, better sleep patterns, the ability to manage emotions, and better empathy and self-awareness.
Simple Tips For Mindfulness At Home
Eva had this advice, “Before you teach mindfulness to your children, you need to embody it yourself. Never enforce mindfulness or turn it into a punishment, i.e. “You hit your sister so go sit in the mindful corner!”
She shared these easy tips to follow at home:
- To begin, keep it simple and consistent – 5 to ten minutes of meditation per day to soft music or silence. Mindfulness is about noticing our thoughts and what is happening within and around us right now
- Create a mindful bedtime ritual, e.g. watch a relaxing video, read a book like Sitting Still Like A Frog, and ask the children to tell you one thing they are grateful for
- Practise mindful eating by having a small piece of chocolate and be aware of the taste, smell and texture
- Go for a walk / drive and ask the children to tell you what they notice around them
- Yoga calms an agitated mind so learn a few simple yoga poses which you can do together
- Most importantly, keep it fun and explore what works for you and your family
Some of you may be sceptical about mindfulness and whether it really does help calm and enhance focus. If top universities like Oxford, University of Massachusetts Medical School and Harvard already have mindfulness centres, it’s safe to say that this is a process of psychology forging the path towards happiness and focus.