Learning the art of mindfulness can help you lose weight, handle stress and relate to your partner. Here's how.
"Living in the moment" might sound like the simplest idea in the world, but according to psychologists, failing to do so is contributing to rising depression and anxiety levels.
"It's really easy to get caught up thinking about something that happened in the past, or stressing about something in the future," says Sarah-Jayne McCormick, principal psychologist at Bright Ideas Psych.
"But when we focus on the present moment, it stops us getting caught up in our minds, and gives us space to reflect on what's happening and choose how to respond to a situation. We then realise that the thing we are scared or worried about hasn't actually happened yet."
Tapping into your mind
The first step to becoming more present is to recognise when you’re distracted. "You know that feeling when your mind wonders –– you're at work trying to type a report out, but you're thinking about what you're going to cook for dinner? That's being mind-less," McCormick says. "Our mind is used to disappearing to the past or the future.".
A simple mindfulness exercise
Unlike formal meditation, you can practice being mindful anywhere, any time. Cameron Aggs, psychologist and CEO of Mindfulness Training of Australia, says the easiest way to be mindful is to sit in a chair and close your eyes.
"Have an awareness of your feet on the floor, your bottom in the chair and your breath coming in and out," he explains.
This simple exercise will bring a wave of calm over your body. "By becoming more in touch with our breathing we start to relax the body’s fight or flight response," Agg explains.
"The fight/flight response kicks in when there is a threat, but deep breathing switches on the autonomic nervous system that tells us things are safe and the body relaxes."
Aggs suggests we make this exercise a regular part of our lives. "We should come into an awareness of our feet, our bottom and our breath, five to 10 times a day if we can," he says. "It can be more difficult when we have busy lives and are used to thinking about the future and planning. It’s a skill that we need to work on."
McCormick suggests setting a regular phone alarm to remind yourself to pause for a moment and consider whether you are 100 percent focused on the task or conversation at hand.
Reap the relationship rewards
Being mindful can pay huge relationship dividends. "If you have been with someone and they are distracted and not giving you full attention, it can be a horrible experience," McCormick says. "If our mind is wrapped up in our thoughts and feelings, we can't notice how someone is talking, or their body language. When we pay attention to our partners, they feel more cared about."
Making a conscious effort to listen when your partner is speaking can strengthen your bond.
"When you are paying attention to what is happening here and now, you are able to have better quality relationships," McCormick says.
Your body will benefit
Forget strict dieting, being mindful is one of the simplest weight loss strategies dietitians advocate because it helps neutralise the stress hormones that prompt us to over-eat and also helps us realise when we're full.
"Make eating an exercise in mindfulness by really tasting the food flavour and smelling the aromas," Aggs suggests.
"When we are smelling, tasting, hearing, seeing and feeling, we come into a direct sensory experience. The mind quietens and it just feels better."