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Mindfulness doesn't have to mean meditation

I held an impromptu focus group with some friends in the pub recently. As I started gearing up to launch The Village Counsellor, I was shamelessly gathering information, advice and support from anyone who would give it. So I asked my friends to share with me what emotional and mental health support was available in their workplace.

One friend said something that particularly struck me: that at her workplace, there seemed to be an obsession with mindfulness. She said that was all well and good, but she personally thought it was useless to her, because she simply isn't a sit-quietly-and-meditate kind of person.

One might respond that that's precisely why it might benefit her; but the thing is, I share her frustration. Even though I believe 10 minutes a day of mindful practice would probably help keep me calmer, still, truth be told, my heart's not in it.

And that brings me to one of my deepest beliefs about finding support in our lives: there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

I found myself wondering what alternatives there are for fidgety, restless people, and so I went back to what is understood to be beneficial about mindfulness. Essentially, it's about spending some time deeply immersed in the present moment, as aware as we can be of our thoughts, feelings and sensations, without getting caught up in them. And I think there is an important alternative to what we might call 'still mindfulness': active mindfulness.

I remember the first time I went out as a rookie crew member on a sailing boat. I quickly learned the hard way that the thing about working on a boat is: it just isn't an option to be off daydreaming, or worrying about work, or planning the family Christmas dinner. If your attention leaves the immediacy of the boat for more than a few seconds, you will get clonked on the head by a rope, or have your ankles swept from under you by a boom. The work is physical, and also more-or-less skilful, so that you have to be aware of your body: what your muscles are doing, how you're moving. At the end of my first day on-board, I was amazed to realise how peaceful I felt, and that I hadn't thought about my problems or worries once since I stepped off the shore. Active mindfulness in action.

Sailing isn't the only activity that confers this present moment awareness experience: there are so many. Activities like climbing, dancing, and pretty much any sport will also bring your immediate experience into the foreground. I even find gardening and housework can do this. Our problems don't disappear, of course, but the clarity and reconnection that comes from mindful practice can help us regain perspective and think more creatively about finding ways forward.

If sitting meditation and yoga classes just aren't your thing, that doesn't mean you need to switch off or feel excluded when the 'm' word comes up. There are alternatives. Find something that works for you! You may even find you've been doing it all along...

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