In the midst of an increasingly chaotic world, it is becoming more important to focus on our own self-care and wellbeing.
Often at this time of the year we resolve to take better care of our bodies, but few make a commitment to dedicate time to improving our mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness is a form of awareness which helps you focus on the present, not the past or what is to come, which in turn helps us respond better to what the world throws at us.
Across Northern Ireland there are a number of activities and attractions which put mindfulness and positive mental health at the core of their offerings.
Ann Ward, founder of Xhale, which is based within the ancient landscape of County Armagh’s Slieve Gullion, has practiced meditation for over 20 years. As a result, she has created immersive, mindfulness experiences, courses and retreats using the gifts of meditation and nature.
She said: “Mindfulness can be practised at any time at all – while you are sitting, walking, cooking, eating, or even just breathing. If you are focusing on the present moment and paying deliberate attention to the activity you are currently doing, then you are not thinking about the past or the future with all the associated worries, regrets, anxiety and negative thoughts.”
Ann offers both one-to-one and large group courses during which she gives you the tools to incorporate meditation practises into your daily routine. She also runs workshops in ‘forest bathing’, the practice of connecting with your senses in a forest environment.
Here Ann shares five top tips to help you start on a path to rejuvenation:
Vitamin N (Nature)
Spending at least 20 minutes per day in nature is so important to support our holistic health. Nature can nurture feelings of comfort and safety. Sitting or walking, particularly, in a forest setting has a number of health benefits: Lowers heart and pulse rate, reduces anxiety, boosts mood and immunity, and supports relaxation and stress reduction. Use your feet to help you to connect to the present moment, notice all of the sounds around you, the smells, colours, touch the texture of the plants and notice your breath moving with the wind.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Reflection nurtures contentment and cultivates appreciation of people in our lives and for the simple things in life, like the food we eat, the gentle breeze and the sound of the birds. It can lower blood pressure, improve immunity and help improve sleep. Take time each day to practice gratitude and you will learn to appreciate life more fully in the present moment, resting from thoughts of fear or anxiety.
This is real soup weather and mindful cooking is a wonderful way to ground yourself in the present moment. While cooking you immerse yourself in your senses, noticing the colours of the food, the textures, the chopping sound and motion, the sizzling as the food cooks, the changes in colour as it cooks, the rhythm of stirring and the flavours as you taste it.
Breathing exercises are excellent stress management tools which keep your mind focused and anchored in the present moment. You can do breathing exercises anywhere and they will have a calming effect on your whole system. You can do them before you go into a situation which you know you will find stressful.
Sit comfortably on a chair, with your hands resting gently on your lap with your feet firmly on the ground with your back supported. Notice all the points of contact between your body and the chair. Imagine that your feet are like weights, anchoring you in the present moment. If you feel comfortable gently close your eyes. Then when you are ready, breathe in for a slow count of four, hold the breath for a slow count of four, breath out for a slow count of four and hold for a count of four. Then repeat, breathing in for a count of four.