Yoga Instructor Hannah Barrett’s tips for leading a more mindful life
It may have started as a trend among Silicon Valley tech companies, but mindfulness is a practice that is here to stay – for all of us. Not just for the Googlers or the employees at Tesla looking to increase productivity. People are practicing mindful living, where we are paying attention in the present moment on purpose and without judgement. We have learnt that it is a powerful practice which undoubtedly can transform our lives. When we feel our lungs fill and release, as we focus on the smallest details of our respiration, other thoughts–of work, of family, of money–begin to recede, leaving us alone with the rise and fall of our chests.
No longer an activity reserved for the new age set, the public is looking to mindfulness as an antidote to stress and burnout, technology addiction and digital distractions, and a sense of time famine and constant busyness.
The only time we truly have is right now. When we lose presence, we run the risk of missing the moments that matter and not appreciating the value in our life. Mindfulness can change how we react to stress, how we deal with anxiety, how we interact with our friends and family and how we think, feel and behave.
Bringing mindfulness into your life can be a game changer. Here, we spoke with the London-based yoga specialist Hannah Barrett, who gave us five of her top tips which will help you bring more mindfulness into your everyday life and at the same time bring more happiness. Being more mindful enabled Hannah to address the challenges she used to face and she ultimately flipped her perspective on life.
1. Take a deep breath
“It can still be a good day if the only thing you did was breathe.” – Johnny Lung
Most people who teach mindfulness will start with the breath.
After you read this paragraph, close your eyes. Bring to mind something that however big however small that you are finding difficult at the moment.
Now notice the sensations that come up when you think of this. Maybe you feel it in your stomach or maybe your chest tightens. Now take five deep breaths. Inhale through the nose breathing into the belly, filling the chest and sending the breath all the way to the collar bones. Exhale slowly and mindfully through the nose. Don’t try and cover the feelings, instead breath into them. Let them be there and use your breath to help you.
Before you blink your eyes open, notice how those five slow breaths made you feel. Even if they helped even the tiniest amount, how huge is that? That we have this incredibly powerful tool in built in us that often we take for granted. Deep breathing triggers your body’s parasympathetic nervous system or your rest and digest system and it will also give you a greater sense of self awareness.
In your day to day life, Hannah tells us to pay attention to the way breathing feels. To watch your belly and chest rise and fall and feel your heartbeat. Hannah says: ‘Notice how each breath looks different. This will immediately help you to feel more connected to your body and more grounded. You don’t need to change anything about the way you breathe, just being aware of your body will deepen your connection to the present.’
And this ties in with meditation. There’s a good reason why many of the world’s most successful people practice meditation every day. ‘We live in this society, particularly in London where everything is constantly moving, surrounded by technology and rarely switching off. It seems counterintuitive to prioritize time to be still when there are so many things to do.’ She continues. ‘In fact, research shows that just 10 minutes of meditation is enough to overcome stress and anxiety, will help you block out the internal thoughts of restlessness and allow you to concentrate better.’
Hannah advices us to start small. ‘Start with five minutes after you wake or before bed where you simply sit and focus on your breath. Your mind will wander and that’s fine, gently bring yourself back to the breath. That simple act is mindfulness.’
There are loads of incredible apps out there which can help you too – Hannah’s personal favourites are Headspace, Calm and Expectful.
2. Happy Habits
Happy habits are a simple way to add more mindfulness and positivity into our lives. For Hannah, her happy habits are in the morning and in her evening routine. Every morning she aims for ten minutes of meditation before she get out of bed. This doesn’t happen every day as life gets in the way. What she tells us though is that when it doesn’t happen for days in a row she can feel it, she quickly notice that she gets more stressed and challenges cause greater impact.
After Hannah gets her kids up she always makes sure that she includes them in the rest of her morning routine. Together they map out the day, how to make the day great and three things they are grateful for. ‘Maybe we sound like the Brady Bunch but try it next week and notice how starting your day with gratitude makes a difference.’ She tells us.
‘Starting the day with a positive outlook can make a huge difference. And doing it with the children can be really eye opening (and hilarious).’ Hannah told us how the other day her four year old was grateful for his body because (in his words) ‘I love jumping’, his warm house and his chocolate croissant, and Hannah’s two year old was grateful for her daddy (it always starts with her daddy!, Hannah tells us and laughs), mummy, Bernie the dog and after a bit of coaxing her big brother. ‘Quite the variety but I love that we have these precious moments together.’
‘My evening habits involve ending the day with a book (even if just for 5 minutes) and thinking back over the day and thinking of three good things that happened. This has the biggest impact on the bad days. The days which force you to rethink and again flip your perspective. Because if the good things that happened are that you had a warm shower, saw a loved one and you had a nice dinner actually how huge are those things.’
3. See daily tasks as an opportunity to practice mindfulness
Using mindfulness in daily tasks can help life feel less of a constant race and more meaningful. ‘Folding laundry is a great example. How often do you fold laundry and let you mind race away with the days to do list or alternatively maybe your mind fills with negative feelings of the relentlessness of laundry and how you have better things to do.’
Hannah highlights the importance: ‘Next time you’re in this situation, pay attention. Pay attention to your hands. How do they move, how do the different clothes feel under your skin? Notice the different textures and temperatures of the materials. Notice how each hand moves differently to the other.’
We overlook SO much in life. So try and switch off the automatic, switch off the autopilot and pretend you’re folding for the first time. Hannah also advices that we bring gratitude into it. Be grateful for the clothes in front of you, the washing machine, the tumble dryer, the house over your head. The clothes you are folding for your children or your partner. Find gratitude that they are present in your live. ‘It’s this simple act of being there, being present and flipping your perspective to see the beauty surrounding you rather than focusing on the negative.’
To avoid going through life on auto-pilot, consciously focus on the sensory experiences that make life worth living. ‘Next time you are out for a walk take note of your five sense. Take your headphones out and listen to the sounds around you, look for things you haven’t noticed before, maybe even literally stop and smell the roses.’
4. Listen. Really listen.
When someone else is talking, do you often find yourself focused on your own thoughts? Thinking, do I agree, has this happened to me before? What can I say next? Did I turn the oven off? On the flip side, how many times have you experienced extreme frustration when trying to speak to someone who isn’t fully present.
‘If someone is talking to us, focusing all attention on them is an act of kindness and love.’ Hannah tells YCB. ‘You will immediately be able to think of friends you have who are brilliant at really listening and being present.’ Start being fully present in conversations and you’ll be surprised how many people notice and appreciate this simple act.
This also relates to putting your phone away. Again, how many times have you been with a friend who spends half the time glancing at their phone? If you can, put it away and give your friend your full attention.
5. Immerse yourself in a meaningful hobby
What do you love doing so much that being fully present isn’t an issue and time seems to fly when you’re doing it? Adding a mindful hobby into your life can add fulfilment, richness and most importantly fun.
Hannah says: ‘My guilty pleasure is reading and when I was little, I would stay up at night reading the night away. In my twenties when I had a stressful job in finance my love of reading became a distant memory and only on a holiday I would return to books.’
She continues: ‘When I was reassessing my morning and evening routine, I realized that reading gives me time to unwind, let go of worries and simply be present. So now I read every night before bed and it brings me such joy and fulfillment. On nights I notice that my mind has started to wander and maybe I’ve read a page without taking it in, I’ll reset and go back to read with a more present mind.’
Whatever your vice is, whether it’s a good book, cooking, dancing, colouring… find something you love and add it into your life. You won’t regret it!