Life in lockdown: How to practise mindfulness in the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic and ongoing restrictions to normal behaviour and routines are affecting people’s lives in many different ways.

Mindfulness can be “particularly helpful” as we struggle with the limitations of lockdown, an accredited meditation teacher has said.

Ann Ward, founder of Xhale which is based in Co Armagh in Northern Ireland, has been involved in meditation for more than 20 years.

She said: “Mindfulness can be practised at any time at all – while you are sitting, walking, cooking, eating or just pausing to notice your breath.

“If you are focusing on the present moment and paying deliberate attention to the activity you are currently doing, then you are not thinking about the past or the future with all the associated worries, regrets, anxiety and negative thoughts.

“It can be particularly helpful during these lockdown conditions.”

Here are some of her top tips:

– Vitamin N (Nature)

Twenty minutes each day spent in nature is “so important to support our holistic health”, said Ms Ward.

She recommends sitting or walking in your garden, local park or forest setting, saying this has a number of health benefits including reducing anxiety, boosting your mood and supporting relaxation and stress reduction.

– Forest bathing

The Duchess of Cambridge
The Duchess of Cambridge

Two years ago the Duchess of Cambridge disclosed she is a fan of the Japanese concept, where people can immerse themselves in a green space to combat stress.

Ms Ward is a certified shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) guide and said spending time in a forest environment can boost a person’s immune system as well as reduce blood pressure and lower stress.

She said people should try to bring awareness to the present moment by noticing the connection of their feet to the forest floor, observing the movement of their breath to ground themselves and using all their senses to deepen their awareness of the nature surrounding them.

– Bring the outside inside

Bringing nature indoors can be as easy as opening a window to allow a breeze and to hear birdsong, having a photograph of a nature scene in the room where you spend most of your time, or having house plants and flowers inside to boost your mood and bring a pop of colour to your day, she said.

Images of outdoor scenes inside the home can help with our appreciation of nature and mindfulness (Joe Giddens/PA)
Images of outdoor scenes inside the home can help with our appreciation of nature and mindfulness (Joe Giddens/PA)

– Swap soaps for nature viewing

Simply making a choice to watch more positive content such as wildlife documentaries and regular nature programmes can allow you to connect with nature in a virtual way, said Ms Ward.

“This will support your wellbeing and potentially create new interest in the nature you experience in reality,” she said.

“It may even inspire you to become involved in local conservation projects.”

– Breathing techniques

Breathing exercises are excellent stress management tools which keep your mind focused and anchored in the present moment, said Ms Ward.

She recommends one which encourages a focus on the breath through repeating the phrase “I am breathing in, I am breathing out” while sitting comfortably on a chair, with hands resting gently on your lap and feet firmly on the ground.

She said: “As you settle in to the exercise, begin to take some deeper breaths and, as you do so, silently begin to repeat ‘I am breathing in’ on the in-breath and ‘I am breathing out’ on the out-breath.

Breathing techniques can help us with a digital detox
Breathing techniques can help us with a digital detox

“Focus on your breath and on the words. If your attention wanders, just gently bring back your focus on breathing in and breathing out.”

– Digital detox

While acknowledging the positive way in which technology allows us to connect with others in lockdown, Ms Ward said “techno-stress has evolved with the new digital age, resulting in sensory and information overload due to continuous contact with devices, social media and online meetings”.

She advises people to make “mindful choices to rest from this activity”, perhaps by practising a few minutes of breathing exercises for some screen-free time.