What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is not necessarily meditation, some fancy method of relaxation, a particular type of exercise, or a special type of yoga. In fact, you can practice mindfulness while doing all these things.
With mindfulness, you do not need to clear your mind or focus on a single point.
Mindfulness is, quite simply, being fully present and aware of what you are doing and where you are without being distracted or overwhelmed by everything else going on around you. When you are being mindful, you are rooting yourself in the present and focussing on the thing you are doing at the time, whether that’s meditating, going out for a walk, doing the shopping, or just sat in bed with a cuppa. Mindfulness is about being ‘aware’ – noticing how you’re breathing, your surroundings, even your thoughts. You are acknowledging it all without judgement and it allows you to slow down and reduce the rushing around and spiralling negative thought patterns we often find ourselves doing.
How does mindfulness help?
Mindfulness has numerous benefits for improving emotional and physical wellbeing.
Mindful can help:
- Reduce stress
- Reduce depression
- Reduce anxiety
- Improve mental health
- Improve emotional regulation
- Improve sleep
- Improve memory
- Improve cognitive function
- Improved focus
- Improve physical health
- Lower blood pressure
- Strengthen relationships
- Reduce gastrointestinal problems
- Improve body satisfaction and self-worth
It has even been suggested that mindfulness can help reduce bias towards age and race!
As you can see, there are numerous ways in which practicing mindfulness can help you.
How mindfulness can help during pregnancy
Mindfulness can help during pregnancy by reducing pregnancy relating stress, worry, or concerns and can be a preventative step towards reducing mental health issues such as pre- and post-natal depression. Mindfulness can also help with mood swings during pregnancy as you are more aware of changes within your mood and are able to better recognise sudden shifts, allowing you to react accordingly to better handle them. Mindfulness during pregnancy could also help reduce your chances of a premature birth or low-birth weight.
Preliminary studies into mindfulness during pregnancy have shown that practicing mindfulness as early as the first trimester can help with a babies’ development after birth, having an easier time settling, adjusting to new environments, were better able to control emotions and behaviour, and even improved use of attentional resources.
During pregnancy it is very easy to feel exhausted and in pain because that is what you expect to feel. It is common, when there are certain expectations, to focus on those feelings and miss or forget the more positive experiences. Practicing mindfulness during pregnancy has been shown to increase positive feelings and wellbeing, as well as an improvement in self-esteem, life satisfaction, gratitude, and hope – especially if you keep a daily record of your experiences and feelings during mindfulness practice.
How to practice mindfulness during pregnancy
There are several different ways that you can practice mindfulness during pregnancy but at the heart of it, all you need to do is pause and be aware of your surroundings, your thoughts, and your breath, without attaching any judgement to it – merely acknowledging it all, moment by moment. It takes practice to get better at it, just like any other skill, but general mindful practices that you can do almost anywhere can help, even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes.
Many people are put off by the thought of meditating as it is stereotypically assumed you need to sit still for long periods of time with a completely empty mind – and how hard is it to empty your mind when you’re feeling the pressure and symptoms of growing a baby inside you?
Well, meditation doesn’t always have to involve floating in an endless ocean without a worry in the world.
You can start meditating for just 5 or 10 minutes sat in a chair or lying on your bed with your eyes closed. Focus on your breath as you take slow, deep breaths in and out – feel it go in and feel it go out. You can even tell yourself to breathe in and breathe out in your head if this helps. Don’t get annoyed or frustrated by any random thoughts that pop into your head. Instead, acknowledge them – “yep, I do need to put another load of washing on” or “Ok. I must remember to do this or that” – and then bring your focus back to your breathing. Don’t get annoyed at yourself for going off course – this is perfectly normal and ok if you’ve not meditated before, just notice your thoughts or feelings and bring yourself back on track. Do this as many times as you need to without judgement until you’ve meditated for your chosen time. You can set yourself a timer if you like – just try and pick a nice, gentle sound to notify you when the time is up rather than a harsher alarm sound.
If you struggle to do this on your own, you can try meditating along to a guided meditation – there are numerous guided meditation apps like Calm that provide instructional guided meditation sessions to help you.
Learn to breathe… mindfully. It sounds a lot like meditation, but mindful breathing is different. Yes, you do need to focus on your breathing, like with the above meditation practice, but you don’t need to slow it down, taking deep and slow breaths. Mindful breathing is merely paying attention to how you are breathing.
All you need to do for mindful breathing is pause whatever it is you are doing and pay attention to your breath for as little as the next 10 or 20 breaths. Follow your breath in and out in your mind. You can close your eyes if it’s comfortable and will help. You don’t need to change how you’re breathing but if you want to slow it down and take deeper breaths, you can – it is entirely up to you. Just focus on your breathing for 10 or 20 breaths. That’s it.
Doing this at regular intervals throughout the day can help you feel refreshed, focused, and calmer.
Keep a journal
You don’t need to write a novel or keep a detailed diary of every moment of your day. You don’t need to spill your deepest darkest secrets onto paper. You don’t even need to write anything ‘good’ or interesting to anyone else but you.
Mindful journaling is all about making a note of anything you want. You can write a few bullet points about how you’re feeling. You can write a few sentences about anything that happened during your day that you’d like to remember. You can write a short list of things you’re thankful for each day. The important thing is to try to do this daily, or as often as you can, to build a habit. Studies have shown that the more you record details about your day or positive thoughts or moments, the more likely you are to feel more positive, remember positive experiences over negative ones, and even notice more positive experiences – no matter how small. What you record doesn’t always have to be positive. If you’ve had a bad day, you can write about it. This will help your mind process the events of the day, helping you to deal with them better and feel less anxious and prevent you from overthinking for too long.
Yoga is great for mindful exercise, but it can be any type of exercise that you enjoy doing (and is safe for you to do during pregnancy).
Pay attention to your body and its movements, and your surroundings while you are exercising. If you’re doing yoga, how does each movement make your muscles feel? Which muscles are stretched or activated? What can you hear as you shift positions or hold a position? If you’re outside for a walk or a run, how do your feet feel on the ground? What can you hear?
If your mind starts to wander and you begin to think about or focus on other things, like with the meditation, just acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, and bring your attention back to your exercise.
Stop and take notice
When was the last time you just stopped and took time to pay attention to everything around you? By taking notice of everything that is going on, on what you can see, and on what you can feel can help root you in the present, appreciate being alive, bring clarity, and increase feelings of calm.
Just stop where you are for a few minutes, or even less, and pay attention to what you can see and feel. If you’re at home, look out the window – what can you see, what’s happening? How does your body feel? Take time to acknowledge your body and how it feels from head to toe. Take it all in slowly, bit by bit, without placing any judgement on it. Try and notice individual details. Try not to let any external thoughts intercede and distract you. If you think of something, acknowledge it and bring your focus back on taking everything in.
This practice can be especially rewarding during pregnancy as while you are focussing on how your body feels, you may notice minute changes that your body is going through that you may not have noticed immediately had you not been practicing mindfulness. This can give you additional appreciation of your pregnancy and everything your body is accomplishing because, let’s face it, it is incredible.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can be incredibly rewarding. These are just a few simple mindfulness practices that anyone can do to help them become more mindful during pregnancy.
If you’d like to incorporate more mindfulness in your pregnancy and maybe even your childbirth, more and more childbirth and pregnancy classes or groups are teaching mindfulness practices. Get in touch with your healthcare professional who may be able to point you in the right direction.
CREATING MEMORIES THAT LAST A LIFETIME