Hippies, Buddhists, New-Age travelers, or just a well-intentioned friend or relative trying to remind you how short life really is – we’ve all been advised to “live in the moment” at one time or another.
But living every day like it’s your last is nigh-on impossible: how can we throw caution to the wind and have a party on the beach when there is a mortgage to pay and school applications to fill out for next year?
While it may not be easy – or even advisable – to think only of the present, neither is it sensible to focus only on the future or the past, with no consciousness of what is happening around us here and now.
According to an article issued by the National Institute of Health in the US, mindfulness is the ancient practice of paying attention to what is happening in the present, allowing yourself to fully experience each event – large or small, good or bad – without judgment or preconceptions, before moving onto the next.
Unsurprisingly, the practice of mindfulness has been shown to have positive effects on our mental state. Studies cited in the article report improvements in levels of stress, anxiety and self-esteem, as well as the ability to relax and enjoy life. Other findings include beneficial effects on brain functions such as memory and learning.
But mindfulness can also improve our physical health by helping us to pay attention to when and what we eat. Everyone knows how easy it is to polish off the chocolates almost without realising it when you’re engrossed in a good film, or how quickly the nibbles disappear when we are busy chatting and drinking with friends, so taking time out to notice what we are eating can help reduce calorie intake.
In my own experience, I know that mindfulness also helps me to focus on the amount of exercise I do. Paying attention to how I am feeling before, during and after exercise helps me to maintain the motivation I need to keep pulling my trainers on, because I know how good it makes me feel when I do.
So don’t sell the family home and skip off to India just yet, but do try to stop and think about the moment you are in once in a while, especially when you’re reaching for another biscuit!