Being Mindful

MindfullnessFeeling 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”.

Heaspace 2Mindfulness 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 3Headspace 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.


  • Amanda says:

    Hi Jane,
    Best book I have found on Mindfulness is by Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, it includes a useful CD of guided Meditations as well as being a fascinating read. Discovered this after reading an article by Ruby Wax who has just completed a Masters Degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford. Apparently her Sane New World Tour is currently making its way across the country – Mindful humour – what’s not to like!

  • Helen says:

    I have just finished an 8 week course in Mindfulness for Stress: it was illuminating, challenging and rewarding in equal measure. To be honest, I don’t recognise the idea of ‘meditation-lite’ – on this course, we were taught about the importance of daily meditation (formal practice) as well as the informal practice of being mindful in everyday situations and actions. These apps &c look fun, but I certainly needed the structure and discipline of a course that combined both theory and practice in order to understand and experience how Mindfulness can work. I guess it’s a very individual thing, but I’d encourage anyone curious to have a go – and like anything, you only get out as much as you put in.

    Thanks for the post, Jane and Gwyneth.

  • Ruthie says:

    Your phrase ‘Hideous menopausal anxiety’ leapt out of your post.
    Having always been able to roll with life’s punches, I suddenly find myself consumed by this to the point where I can’t remember how I used to feel so confident and cope with everything so effortlessly.
    Maybe a subject to explore in greater depth in another post, as it seems to be low down the awareness list after hot flushes etc. but seems to be affecting many of my friends too.
    Maybe some of these options will help, thanks for the post.

  • Monix says:

    Oh how I agree with you Ruthie – the menopausal anxiety is the worst, that and the insomnia…

  • Jane says:

    Ruthie and Monix, I SO agree more on both those subjects to come soon.

    Also someone else was telling me about Suby Wax’s sane tour – must inverstigate more

    J x

  • Jane says:

    Helen, whole thing on TM in Saturdays Gaurdian, did you see it?

  • Tiffany says:

    Belated thank you – I downloaded the Mindfulness Daily app on your recommendation (I already meditate 30 minutes every day) and I’m loving it for those ‘moments’ …

  • Walter Roth says:

    Thanks for the lovely article Jane & Gwyneth!

    @Helen … you are absolutely right! We approached creating Mindfulness Daily (I am one of the cofounders mentioned above) to provide a taste of Mindfulness to people new to it, while also providing a support tool for those who have been actively exploring Mindfulness for a long time or who want to take their practice deeper, with longer forms of mindfulness. We’d love more feedback on how we could extend our current content and/or functionality to be of value to your unique path inward :-)

    @Tiffany … thanks for the feedback, and so glad that you are enjoying our app! We’d love to hear any additional feedback or suggestions you might have – feel free to email us your thoughts at [email protected] if you’d like. We’re working on adding targeted content (for example, practices contextually relevant to things like menopausal anxiety like Jane, Ruthie and Monix commented) over the next 12 months and are listening closely to our users to learn what is important to them in their daily lives.

  • Jane says:

    Look forward to hearing more Walter – especially about the targeted content

  • Walter Roth says:

    @Jane – thanks! If you have any suggestions of experts and/or subject matters that would be of special interest to your readers, please add them here or email them to me at [email protected]. It would be deeply appreciated!

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