Book Reviews,  Personal Development,  Wellbeing

How to build a daily mindfulness practice

That special time of year is creeping upon us and while quality time with loved ones, showing our generosity, and having a good old knees-up is lovely it can also be a bit hectic as we prepare for the festivities, finish up work projects, and respond to all the requests from school which seem to multiply towards the end of the autumn term. Pass me the mulled wine and a few mince pies quick!

Of course, it’s not only this time of year that can leave us feeling a bit frazzled.  We can get so caught up in the everyday busyness of life: the daily stressors, running here and there without a moment to pause and think, the constant distractions around us, the mind chatter, and the subsequent feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and agitation.

Mindfulness provides you with a way of stepping back from the hustle and bustle of daily life! It can help you to slow down your busy mind and body, to come back to yourself, and regain your focus and composure.

I wanted to know how I could be mindful on a daily basis, and to make it a regular practice, so I ordered a copy of The A-Z of Mindfulness: How to be more present everyday by Anna Barnes (2020, Summersdale, 128 pages). This post includes a review of the book and some of the top mindfulness techniques that I picked up from it. I have also provided a list of resources at the end of this post which will direct you to further information on mindfulness.

Journaling is a great tool for getting you to take a mindful pause in your day and for bringing your awareness to how you are feeling in the here and now. After you have read this post, download these mindful journal prompts, get your notebook and pen ready, and start writing!

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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a term that you hear a lot in the wellbeing space but what does it actually mean and how do we know if we are being mindful? In the introduction to the book, Anna Barnes provides the reader with a simple and straightforward explanation:

‘Mindfulness is about focusing on the here and now, and letting go of thoughts and judgements.’

(The A-Z of Mindfulness by Anna Barnes, p.4)

You are being mindful when you are paying attention to what is in your immediate environment, when you are focusing fully on the task that you are doing or the person you are listening to, when you bring your awareness to thoughts that are passing through your mind, the emotions you are experiencing, and the different sensations in your body but, importantly, you observe these things without making judgements or getting too concerned with what they might mean.

One important thing to note about mindfulness: It can take a bit of practice!

Why should we be mindful?

What I love most about mindfulness is that it helps me to take a step back from the overthinking and rumination.  The more I have practised mindfulness the more I have noticed when my mind is wandering into one of those unhelpful thought spirals. I can then gently accept that this has happened and bring myself back to whatever it is that is going on around me.

Mindfulness also gives you the chance to pause and relax if you have been running around on autopilot. This can help you to feel replenished and ready to face another day.

Being mindful can make you feel more appreciative of the world around you, especially the small things in life, as you develop a sense of wonder and curiosity about your environment. It enables you to be present and attentive to whatever it is you are doing, and whoever you are with, instead of getting caught up in distractions!

How to be mindful in day to day life

I was looking for a book that I could dip into each day to get an introduction to mindfulness and to prompt me to try out some simple mindfulness exercises – and The A-Z of Mindfulness delivered just that! It contains a comprehensive overview of concepts that are related to mindfulness (one for every letter of the alphabet) which are then followed by practical mindfulness exercises. Inspiring and thought-provoking quotes and affirmations are interspersed between the pages of the A-Z and are presented in beautiful and calming watercolours.

The mindfulness exercises were short enough to be done either there and then or could easily be completed at some other point during the day.  This is perfect if you don’t have much time on your hands or when your mind is racing and you are having difficulty concentrating. 

As I was keen to incorporate mindfulness into my daily routine, I carved out 10-15 minutes each day to read a section of the book and to do the recommended activity afterwards.  I made sure that I did this at the same time every day, which was just before I started work, and it soon became a part of my morning routine.

Inspired by the suggestions in the book, I took the opportunity to do a mindful walk on my way back from the school run where I paid particular attention to the colours of the autumn leaves on the ground, the sound they made under my feet,  how it felt to walk across them, and the cold breeze on my face.  I also started doing some Yoga for beginners on YouTube during my lunch break. Learning the sequence of the different Yoga poses (and holding them!), as well as concentrating on the inhale/exhale of the breath, is a very mindful activity indeed!

Other mindfulness exercises that I particularly enjoyed were:

  • Closing my eyes and visualising, in great detail, a peaceful place (basically, imagining a happy place that I can return to whenever I need!)
  • Bringing my attention to the details in everyday objects or things in the natural environment. As Barnes explains, this is like zooming in on something with a camera.
  • Laying down on my bed and watching the clouds drift by through the skylight (super relaxing!)
  • Learning to engage with my senses and focusing my attention on what I can see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Sometimes I only had a minute to do this in the mornings but it felt so grounding and acted like a bit of a reset. You can direct your attention to your senses during any activity that you are doing in the day – you could do it while washing up, when having a bath/shower, or on your daily commute.
  • Mindful colouring and crafting – this involves paying close attention to the feel of the pencils and materials you are using and all the different colours you have selected. I have found that taking time to learn different drawing techniques and having a go at embroidery has helped to keep my mind present and focused.
  • Savouring every bite of my food instead of gulping it down in a hurry! This meant chewing my food slowly and noticing the different flavours and textures. My favourite mindful activity, and one for me that is the most ‘doable’, is the mindful cuppa! I love wrapping my hands around the mug and feeling the warmth, enjoying every sip, and inhaling the aroma of the tea…

Be patient with yourself and, to begin with, carry out your mindfulness practice for a short time each day. However, if you really do not find it helpful then find other practices that work for you and that can help you to stay present, attentive and focused (this may be things like exercising, dancing, reading, doing puzzles, writing, etc.)  If you experience a worsening of mood then talk things through with a close friend, your GP and/or a mental health professional. Have a read of this helpful article from Mind to see if mindfulness is suitable for you.

Resources on mindfulness

I purchased The A-Z of Mindfulness through The Blurt Foundation, a Social Enterprise that supports people who are affected by depression.  They provide a range of activities that can help you to be more mindful and you can purchase these items via their shop.

Looking for more information on mindfulness? Check out these resources:


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