It doesn’t matter the area of your life, if you strip things back to basics you will find that life just becomes easier. When I was thinking about writing this article, I thought about skincare and how going back to basics always works. I thought about diet and healthy eating; keeping things simple gets results. Exercise and keeping it simple means you can sustain a regime that works. Clothing is another example I thought of and the notion of, essentials. Keeping things simple, stripping back to basics and working on essentials gets results. When we over complicate things, start adding in too much our lives become chaotic. The mind, therefore, is no different and I started to think about the basic practices I apply to my daily life that makes a difference…
What I have learnt over the years on my own journey of self development is that consistency in any area of your life is the key to success. That and being persistent. So doing the same thing but doing it regularly. That isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t change something if it isn’t working, but to truly get results you have to keep practising.
Creating healthy habits don’t just apply to diet and exercise, they apply to the mind too. Ultimately, everything comes from mind because it dominates our being and drives our body, so to speak. Cultivating a healthy mind is, therefore, paramount if we are to live a happy and peaceful life.
Here are my basic, essential and simple 7 daily practices that if practiced consistently, every day, will change your life. They are in no particular order and so it isn’t that you have to do them in the order in which they appear. I do have times of day when I prefer to do some practices and have outlined those and why that is below, but truly find what works for you and remember, they are intended to be basic and so keep it simple.
Although at first this may be perceived as just an exercise, yoga goes way above and beyond any conventional form of exercise. Indeed, the physical practice does have its benefits, truly it is a spiritual practice; a moving meditation and a daily practice or discipline if you like, where you are unifying your mind, body and spirit with universal consciousness. Even if your intention is just around the physical, you will benefit on all other levels regardless.
For me, yoga is a self discipline and one that sets the tone for the day. It cleanses and detoxes the body from the inside out and leaves my body feeling lighter, stronger and energised. My mind is calmer and overall I feel balanced. The physical practice of yoga (hatha) is traditionally the foundation for meditation (raja) and so naturally once I have practised yoga I move into my daily meditation practice.
It doesn’t matter really what time of day you practice yoga. I practice at 5 am simply because that is I have found the most beneficial time. Traditionally yoga is practiced in this way and really does set you up for the day. If your schedule doesn’t allow it, then practice at a time that suits you. It took me years to be able to get up at 5 am and just roll out of bed onto my yoga mat. There are days when I don’t want to do that and days when my body feels like lead, but this is the practice. Getting to the mat regardless of how I feel and taking myself, warts and all as the saying goes, to the mat. Yoga is a practice of self development and a great teacher.
Yoga has become so intrinsically woven into my life that if I have days where I rest from practice it is my body that calls for me to return. I am a better person when I practice yoga. My body feels better and my mind is clearer. Yoga is breath and breath is after all life. Yoga is life.
By the absence of grasping one is set free. – Buddha
If we can surrender to the present moment we will experience freedom. Meditation allows that space where we can be ourselves, surrender to the present moment and let go of our attachments. In that space we are free and over time the practice spills into our lives in such a way that things just aren’t the same again. Meditation is the foundation to live each day mindfully. It is like turbo boosting your ability to be mindful throughout the day.
It can take time to learn to meditate but simply if you can breathe in and out you can meditate. Once again, we often overthink it so much that it becomes impossible. Truly all we are doing is allowing ourselves to just sit and just be. Focusing on the in breath and focusing on the out breath.
Meditation is the focused awareness of something so that we become at one with it. Truly this becomes consciousness itself but in the beginning it is a case of just sitting and focusing on ones breath. Noticing the thoughts that come and go, sounds and other ‘distractions’ around us and returning focus to the breath. The practice itself is the constant returning to the breath. There is no need to force thoughts away or be carried off with them. We are simply a silent watcher, focusing on our breath and noticing what comes and what goes. Witnessing the arising and falling of whatever comes into consciousness in each moment.
There is no difference between meditation and mindfulness. The two terms are used interchangeably. It is often easy to differentiate them by thinking of meditation as a sitting practice and mindfulness as a daily practice; being mindful of each moment as it happens.
We live most of our lives unconsciously. This is not to mean we are KO’d on the floor, but it does mean we spend most of our time on autopilot. It is our past, conditioned responses that drive how we think and act. This is our ego. We spend most of our time either ruminating over past or dreaming about the future. We rarely spend time in the only time there actually is, and that is now. Be in the now. Be present, fully, in each moment. When you are present to each moment as it is happening you undergo an awakening. You are free from ego. You experience life with a much deeper connection and from a much richer perspective.
This way of being, of living mindfully, takes time. We are not used to being conscious, of being in the present moment. When you spend time in the here and now you are experiencing consciousness as it happens. You are the creator of your own life. You are experiencing each moment and making decisions based on the now, ultimately consciously creating your own life.
To do this, be present as much and as fully as you can throughout the day and your waking life. Bring your attention to the present moment. Experience each moment as it happens.What can you hear, what can you smell, see, touch, taste? When you open yourself up to the present moment you feel alive and your senses revel in what they are being flooded with. The more you become present, the more you will experience and your life becomes fuller and richer from it.
You will begin to notice your thoughts and behaviours and over time change these. You will begin to feel compassion and empathy towards others. You will notice when your emotions shift and you experience anger or other negative emotions. Again, over time being mindful enables you to start to choose how you interact and respond to those around you. Truly there is tremendous power in the now. This is where you always want to aim to be.
Gratitude is not something we say with a, thank you. It is something we feel. Gratitude is a daily practice that on its own will change your life. When you are grateful for all that you have now, you are opening yourself up to receiving more. When you spend your life complaining about what you have, or don’t have, what is missing and what you need more of, you create more of the same. When you truly feel grateful for all that you have now, you invite more into your life naturally. The more gratitude you can practice, the more you will have to be grateful for.
This again is a practice you need to do daily. I sometimes write my list of gratitudes down and sometimes I play it through my mind. Either way I am feeling grateful. For all that I have and throughout my day as I experience each moment.
Even when we experience something seemingly negative or ‘bad’ we can practise gratitude. There are always lessons in everything sent our way. Find the gratitude in every experience, good and bad. Be grateful for everything that comes through your life, whatever it is. In this way you will find over time you become less rocked by the good and bad, simply accepting the ‘isness’ of everything. When you have this acceptance of what is and being grateful for that you will begin to experience more joy in your life too.
5. Loving Kindness
In Buddhism loving kindness is the expression of the true nature of Buddha and called ‘metta’. I was first introduced to the idea of practising loving kindness by Chade Meng Tan who is a brilliant thought leader and author of the book, Joy on Demand. He used to be a software engineer and motivator at Google.
Practising loving kindness literally takes seconds and I would encourage you to do this as often as possible. Sometimes at night before I go to bed I practice loving kindness for longer but really it just needs you to bring your attention to the present moment and think about someone to send loving kindness to. In his book, Meng relayed the story of a woman who took his course at Google and who agreed to take part in his loving kindness exercise. He asked everyone to simply wish someone well every hour. It could be anyone and in the case of this woman she simply noticed whoever was passing her at the time and wished them well. She said that at the end of the day it was the best day she had experienced for 7 years!
Often times the best way of getting out of our own head and moving away from your own problems is to wish someone else well. Transferring our attention onto someone else is a sure fire way to make us feel better. I absolutely guarantee that if you practice loving kindness every day for a month you will notice a massive difference in your life. Try it.
Oprah Winfrey says that service + significance = success. We are born to serve. We are here to help our fellow humans with whatever talents, gifts and skills have had bestowed upon us. You may not know your purpose, but whatever you do, every day, ask yourself, what you can do to serve today? What can you do to contribute to others today? Truly the meaning of a happy and fulfilled life is to serve others and as with loving kindness, serving and helping others makes us feel better.
Contributing to something greater than yourself is your purpose, whatever that might be. Asking this each day will open up opportunities every day for you to serve and help others. Ways that you can contribute for the good of humanity. These might not be gargantuan things, but unless you are open to them you won’t see them. If you are being mindful throughout your day you will notice far more than you did before. In this way, ask this question and be present enough to notice what comes up.
You might not choose to take up everything that comes your way to help others, but there will be opportunities that align with your soul and you just feel moved to do. Service to others will make a massive difference to how you feel and what comes into your life. Take the spotlight off yourself and put it out to the world. Ask yourself, how can I serve or be used to help others today and do it every day…
Compassion is something I have felt I don’t struggle with towards others, but enormously towards myself. However, over time I realised that you cannot be compassionate truly to others unless you first show compassion to yourself. This daily practice then is as much to you as it is to be practised outwards to others.
Compassion is showing kindness to others. If it is not a daily practice for you now, try incorporating it into your day. To be giving to others is a form of compassion and so coupled with your daily desire to serve and contribute to others will naturally cultivate your compassion practice.
With all of these practices it is about including them in your day in a way that isn’t contrived. Although there is an element of faking it until you make it when it comes to believing in yourself, especially when you start out and are new to self development practices, you can’t fake true kindness or compassion. You can’t fake helping someone or being giving of your time to someone, otherwise it is not true giving.
As with any practice, the more you do something, the better you become at doing it. Over time these practices will become your natural habits – how joyful to have such positive habits! Be patient and simply practice…