Feeling overwhelmed with work, technology and hideous menopausal anxiety at the end of last year, I decided that I would try to live in the moment and be more present in 2014. It seems I am not the only one – keen to know more about “mindfulness” and how we can incorporate it into our daily lives – without throwing away our iPhones – we asked out favourite trends writer and blogger Gwyneth to tell us more……….
Beep, ping, tweet, click, buzz, flash: there’s no denying that modern life gets busier by the day. But as the world gets busier, so do our minds, leading to distraction, stress and irritation. Turning off all your gadgets and going off-grid is one way of fixing the continuous partial attention most of us suffer from, but it’s not terribly practical, which is why businesses, celebrities and even the tech world are going mad for mindfulness.
If you’ve not heard the term yet (and you will – 2014 has been dubbed “the year of mindful living”) it’s a kind of meditation-lite, which encourages you to focus on how you feel, what you’re doing and what you think about things. Jon Kabat Zinn, a professor at MIT, who popularized the idea describes it like this: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.
Mindfulness seems to be a modern fix-all: research suggests that it can boost the immune system, alleviate medical conditions including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and chronic pain, and also help with psychological conditions including depression, anxiety, phobias and eating disorders. Studies are even exploring how it could help with effects of the menopause, like hot flashes and insomnia.
Major brands and institutions are introducing mindfulness training as a way to help staff be happier and more productive, from Google and Transport for London to Nike, KPMG and the Home Office. Being mindful can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for a few minutes, or “body scanning”, which encourages you to think about how each part of your body feels.
But one of the key ways people are practicing mindfulness now is through their smartphones. It seems odd that the vanguard of easy mindfulness training actually springs from the same place that causes us so much stress, but according to Nathaneal Wolfe and Walter Roth, co-creators of the Mindfulness Daily app, “Technology is a tool, and just as a knife can be weapon or an eating utensil, an iPhone can access the world of information, or be a propagator of fractured attention, weakened relationships, drain of creativity and reinforcer of introversion”. So here’s some of the top high-tech mindfulness tools if you fancy giving it a go yourselves…
Headspace is probably one of the most popular mindfulness apps – it was created by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, who guides you through a course of 10-minute meditation sessions for 10 days. Headspace calls the app “mediation for modern life”, and is designed to fit into spare moments in your day. The New York Times reckons “Andy Puddicombe is doing for meditation what Jamie Oliver has done for food”, so make of that what you will! It’s free for iPhone and Android.
The magnificent Arianna Huffington is a huge advocate of the benefits of mindfulness, and has launched an app, called GPS for the Soul (free for iPhone or Android), that measures your stress levels and offers expert guides to help restore mental balance. You can also choose things that can help you feel calm, whether it’s music and poetry, breathing exercises, yoga, mediation or pictures of loved ones.
There’s also a mindfulness hub on The Huffington Post full of articles, tips and interviews, for those who want to immerse themselves in the mindfulness lifestyle.
Relatively new to the block is Mindfulness Daily, and my personal favourite, not only because its creators Nathaneal Wolfe and Walter Roth are so lovely. The app offers lots of different ways to get mindful, from 15-second “pauses” to allow you to focus on your breathing, to body scanning, and even “device meditation”, which uses the shape and sensations of your smartphone to help you focus and relax. Free on iPhone.
And if you really want to be totally 2014, invest in Melon, a headband that helps monitor the brain’s focus during different activities. It’s $149, but if you want to look like a futuristic hippie and know what your brain is up to, it’s priceless. Wearables + mindfulness? You cannot get more “now” than this.
Have you tried mindfulness techniques? Did it help you? We’d love to hear your comments.