As a girl that has just finished up two years of academic exam revision in the name of the leaving cert, one thing that really struck out to me was how much I needed to practice this technique to get me through long tough days. This was especially evident in sixth year, particularly around the time of the mocks. It's a bit of an exotic word this 'mindfulness', a word that gets thrown around in society from adult colouring books spilling over the shelves in easons, to a vast supply of yoga retreat getaways to far away places.
The thing about mindfulness though is that is doesn't need to be 'far away'. Sure, none of us would likely turn down the offer of a bliss weekend away in Thailand or Bali, but when it comes to reality, stress is something that is very much encountered in everyday life. Thus, I believe that it is very important to learn how to accept it in the here and now, not somewhere else.
Everyone interprets the word mindfulness differently, but for me, I like to lay it out in five simple steps. The following five are, in my views, the easiest and most popular places that I find help me take a step back without wasting too much time out of a busy day. And here's how you, can do it too.
1. Five minutes when you wake up
During my school mornings, I have got to admit that committing myself to a small mindfulness session proved extremely hard, especially when the pressure was on to get showered, dressed and ready for a deadline time. In summer, we often have more time in the mornings. Since finishing, I've taken the time to do things differently to start my day on a productive and clear headed note. When I wake up, before eating I pull on some clothes and go for a brisk walk outside up the road. Sometimes I listen actively to a podcast or the radio but mostly I like to just leave my phone at home and just go. I find it really relaxes me, when you get out in the early morning sun and appreciate the sounds going on around you, whether living in the city or country, it truly switches your brain to a more productive start to the day.
2. In the car
Cars are another situation that I often feel myself getting frustrated in, particularly when waiting on a parent or sitting stuck in rush hour traffic. This is where mindfulness comes in. Instead of sighing and checking the time, or even scrolling aimlessly through social media on your smartphone, put your hand on your chest and breathe slowly in and out. Fix your gaze on some thing like a light in front of you and really focus on that as you deep breathe. Give your shoulders a tension release by rotating them gently up and down.
3. On the Luas/bus/train
We all know that sticky feeling of being crammed on public transport. When you're slightly claustrophobic like me, it can feel hard to stay calm and collected most of the time. You might think the idea of practicing mindfulness absurd on public transport, but trust me, it's not. It is actually the most convenient place. All you need is a pair of good earphones and patience. I like to choose playlists that are pretty zen off my Spotify. When you put music in on the bus, the city can start to seem a lot prettier. I feel that I really start to notice people with my music in, how people act, what people are wearing. The birds on the street. The ways the roads diverge over a bridge. This my friends, is mindfulness. I like to focus on the music too, bass and chords and the ways that lyrics are portrayed. When you really listen to a song with intention, it's a great escape to take your mind off a stress or a tension.
4. In the water
In sixth year I received a membership for a local hotel pool and to be honest, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I swam almost every second day, into the water to do laps up and down, focusing on my breathing, pounding away the stresses of the day to pure pleasure. Being in the water was my life. I found that as soon as I hit the pool, my mind would instantly calm and focus on just that. If you don't have access to swimming, take a bath at least once a week. When you have a candle lit and stare at the flame for the duration of your soak, your brain will completely zenned out afterwards. Trust me, it works wonders.
5. End your day on a positive note
It goes without saying that as young people we often fall asleep with something negative playing on our brain or we reply something that happened in the day over and over again. When I spend too much time at night thinking over stuff, I feel my body struggling extra hard to sink into the sheets and just relax. I now try to take more time to wind down naturally, by reading a book or making myself a tea while trying to stay completely in the present. It's true that if you think of three things that you were grateful for in that day before sleep you'll wake up much more at peace. I like to write it down in a journal.
Whatever you choose to do, whether that be thinking about happy thoughts to yourself, hugging your dog or watching a chill out funny comedy, don't ever go to sleep fussing over the day that just went by. This day will never come again, and as they say, tomorrow will always always, be a new day.