When life gets too intense, take a step back and regain some control. It’s easier than you might think

With so many demands on your time, it’s easy to lose track of who you are and become disconnected from reality. Many people are now actively seeking to regain control of their minds through exercising meditation and mindfulness, but what exactly does that mean?

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness means living fully in the present, without judgment. It’s about focusing on your breathing, being aware of what’s happening in the moment, accepting whatever you’re experiencing (whether it's easy or difficult), and letting it go. The best part: you can be mindful any time, anywhere, no matter what you’re doing. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy to do, especially when you’re freaking out about something.

If you start to experience a stressful situation or get stuck in a pattern of negative thinking, consciously practising mindfulness can help break the cycle. Believe it or not, your breathing is central to the here and now and it's also central to the concept of mindfulness.

By focusing intensely on that important bodily function, you can quickly tune in to your natural rhythm and start to feel calmer and happier.

Mindfulness is a state that you can develop over time by constantly being aware of what’s happening around you (hint: stop texting for a minute and look around!). Meditation is something slightly different and it’s grown massively in popularity in recent years, largely because of the many health benefits reported by those who practise it regularly. If you think that you need to sit cross-legged on the floor, burn joss sticks, and chant “Om”, think again. You’ve most likely sat opposite someone on the train or bus who was quietly meditating, and you didn't even realise it. If you'd like to learn how to meditate properly, see the box on the right.

Six benefits of mindfulness:

■ Reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

■ Longer attention span and improved concentration.

■ Improved memory, sense of self, and empathy.

■ Better performance in exams.

■Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

■ Greater creativity.

1

Start meditating

5 steps, 5 minutes each day.

  1. Find a seated position that's comfortable, but not too comfortable. This could be in a chair or on the floor. Rest your hands on your knees. You want to be relaxed enough to concentrate and be still for five minutes, but not so loose that you fall asleep.
  2. Keep a tall spine. Inhale, roll your shoulders up to your ears. Exhale, roll them back and down. Every time you feel yourself hunching forward or slumping, reset your spinal position with this inhale/exhale rolling shoulder technique. If you maintain a good posture, you’re less likely to get tired and fidgety.
  3. Gently close your eyes, and breathe slowly and deeply. There’s no rush. You can start out with a few full breaths. For meditation, breathing through your nose makes it easier to find a smooth, even pace. Focus on the area between your nostrils and your upper lip. Observe the sensation of the air entering and exiting your body as it passes over this spot.
  4. Keep focus and observe without judgment. Often the mind wanders. Whenever you notice that awareness has drifted, gently guide it back to your breath. Make mental observations about what is happening around you, but don't judge whether each event is 'good' or 'bad'. It's all about accepting, not reacting.
  5. Don’t go to your thoughts. Let them come to you. Keep your mind open and welcoming of ideas, like a blank slate.