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The 3 steps to everyday mindfulness

Mindfulness is all the rage. Oprah, Gwyneth and dozens of other one-name-celebrities have endorsed the practice, the NHS officially recommends it, and one woman I know – in fact me – agrees that grounding yourself in the present can indeed have positive long-term effects.

How are we supposed to fit mindfulness into our day-to-day lives? It can be hard enough to find time to do the things we love, let alone to do nothing at all. But I have found that an enforced pause of just a few minutes, at regular intervals, can have a profound impact on my stress levels. Mindfulness has become a key method for diffusing tension in anxious moments. Here are two, free and adaptable ways that I incorporate mindful practice into my daily routine:

  1. Making an ordinary activity mindful. When I’m busy I find this much easier than trying to stop altogether. For me it’s washing my hands, something that I know I will do at least several times a day. I feel the coldness of the water. I hear it splashing against the basin. I smell the soap’s scent. I see my lather-covered hands. By concentrating on these sensations, in the moment, I am briefly relieving my mind of worry for the future or regret about the past, the classic pattern of the anxious and depressed. These pockets of calm break up the pace of a hectic day and remind me to stay attuned to my body.

  2. Breathing space. The second exercise can be done at a desk, in a café, even on the tube. It simply involves sitting still and taking note of your surroundings – mindfulness, crucially, is about increasing awareness, not about changing behaviour. The breathing space can be split into three stages, following an hourglass pattern as the image below shows.

3 step breathing space

Step 1 To begin with, take note of how you feel – physically, the sensation of your body on the chair, your feet on the floor, the tensions in your neck, your clothes against your skin; and mentally. What is occupying your thoughts?

Step 2 Bring your attention inwards and focus solely on your breathing – again, not changing anything, just becoming aware of each breath and how your body moves as you take it.

Step 3 Expand your attention outwards once more to the whole of your body – paying attention to how it feels, what is on your mind, the space around you. At this stage you might like to turn your thoughts to others, putting your own experiences into perspective.

Each stage can last just a minute, and you need not even let on to anyone else that you’re doing it. Finally, open yourself back up to your surroundings and return to the task at hand.

For me, mindfulness is about treating myself with compassion – taking the time to evaluate my present situation, accepting my emotions and physical state as they are rather than trying to second-guess or deceive myself. Listening to my body in this way often has the effect of quieting everyday stresses and strains. If it works for Gwyneth and Oprah…..

Rachel Kelly’s memoir, Black Rainbow: how words healed me – my journey through depression, is published in paperback by Hodder & Stoughton, £8.99, and is available for purchase on Amazon. All author proceeds to SANE and United Response. For details of her next series of workshops in March see The Idler: this recent video about #thewordsdoctor workshops, which she will be running with Depression Alliance in July:
Follow Rachel @rache_Kelly . For more information on Rachel’s #thewordsdoctor workshops visit

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