Q. I would love to know more about you and how you first came across mindfulness practice.
A. I’m Rachael, a mindfulness mentor, blogger and host of The Mindful Kind podcast. After experiencing stress from a young age, I became fascinated with the mind and dedicated myself to learning more about it.
I studied a Bachelor of Psychological Science at University, followed by a Graduate Certificate in Coaching and Counselling. During this time, I undertook placement at the Anxiety Recovery Centre for Victoria, where I was trained to answer calls on the Helpline.
I had read about mindfulness during my studies, however, when I started volunteering, I was talking with many different people who were experiencing varying degrees of stress. While I understood stress more by this stage, I still didn’t feel like I was handling it very well myself!
I decided to start incorporating mindfulness into my life so I could better understand and offer these techniques to callers of the Helpline. We were trained in a few different mindfulness practices and I quickly realised how powerful they could actually be.
I remember the first time I tried one of the techniques; to notice 5 things I could see, 4 things I could hear, 3 things I could feel, 2 things I could smell and 1 thing I could taste. It shocked me to discover that I didn’t really know what it felt like to be consciously present, without my mind wandering. I was so used to ruminating, reflecting and planning ahead that letting the moment simply be felt completely foreign to me (and scary, at first!).
So began my journey with mindfulness. Over the last few years, the benefits I’ve experienced in my own life have been profound and I became passionate about sharing mindfulness with others, in simple, fun and meaningful ways.
Q. How did you decide to develop The Mindful Kind Podcast?
A. It was actually quite unexpected! I knew I wanted to create a podcast, but I thought I wanted to take a more general wellness approach. I was brainstorming potential names for the podcast when The Mindful Kind popped up and it stuck. I wasn’t sure if I would have enough to talk about for an ongoing period of time, however it seems the more I talk about it, the more I realise I have to say!
It’s been a phenomenal journey and I’m so grateful it happened the way it did. I’ve connected with many people who reached out via social media or email to say how much the podcast has helped them. It’s given me an incredible purpose to share more of my experiences with mindfulness and to continually learn more about it.
Q. How do you explain the concept of mindfulness to your followers?
A.Mindfulness is experiencing the present moment in an open and non-judgemental way. It is letting your thoughts about the past or future fall away and giving yourself the space to notice what’s happening around you, and within your own body and mind.
I like to use a simple story to explain more about mindfulness and the difference between being present or not present;
Imagine you’re walking through a park. As you walk, you’re thinking about what you need to do tomorrow. Your to-do list is long and you’re particularly nervous about catching up with some old friends. The more you think about it, the more you start to imagine negative outcomes- what if you say something wrong and everyone judges you? What if your clothes aren’t as nice as everyone else’s and you feel self-conscious? What if no one actually likes you and they just want to show you that you don’t belong?
Suddenly, you remember that you can choose to be mindful. You take a deep breath and gently ask yourself what is happening around you right now. You notice the green of the grass in the park, the swaying of the leaves in the breeze. You feel the warm sunshine on your skin and the solid ground beneath you. You roll your shoulders and feel some tension release, so you stop to reach your arms towards the sky and stretch out your whole body, tuning in to the sensations which arise. You hear the sounds of children laughing and a dog barking and you take a moment to close your eyes and just listen.
This is how I experience mindfulness. I notice when my mind has taken off and I bring it back to the present moment, without judgement, or frustration. I wrote in an article recently that mindfulness isn’t “restricting” our minds to the now- it is simply opening our minds to each moment’s potential.
Q. When first presented with the idea of mindfulness practice some people are resistant to the suggestion that being in the present moment has psychological benefits especially when the present moment is full of pain. How do you help people believe in the benefits of mindfulness practice?
A. I often talk about my own experiences with mindfulness via my podcast and blog to express how much healthier it has been for me to acknowledge and accept challenging situations and feelings as they arise. Even when the moment is full of pain, rather than ignoring it or trying to hide it away, I can talk about it and engage in self-care. This increased awareness has strengthened my ability to deal with challenges and to build more solid relationships and support networks around me.
I hope that by being so open about my own experiences, I can gently encourage people to explore their own mindfulness practices and understand more about their needs during challenging and painful times.
The truth is that many of us will feel pain, or frustration, stress, anger, jealousy, insecurity, vulnerability. Feelings which may be uncomfortable or frightening, but feelings which will also pass. If we can embrace them and let ourselves feel them, while identifying what we need in that moment and asking for it, we can continue moving through the healing process.
Q. Which is your favourite mindfulness practice and why?
A.This might sound strange, but all of them! Anything which makes me feel grounded and present and free is such a contrast to how I used to feel- weighed down by stress, crumbling under my own pressure and negative self-talk, emotionally reactive to the smallest things and frustrated by how much energy I spent worrying about events which hadn’t happened yet.
A few of the practices I tend to use daily include deep breathing, using scents for a few seconds of mindfulness, mindful cooking and eating, journaling and practicing gratitude. Some days I might also go for a mindful walk, or practice yin yoga.
Before I go to sleep each night, I use various breathing practices and let my mind explore how my body feels, including the warmth of the blanket and the comfort of my pillow.
Q. How do your incorporate mindfulness to your daily life?
At first, I incorporated a few structured practices, such as going for a mindful walk, meditating and yoga. I tried to do one of these practices each day. Once I was familiar with how it felt to be mindful, I began experimenting with more mindfulness practices. Journaling, mindful listening, using my senses, mindful showering, self-massage, colouring, different breathing techniques. Some practices resonated with me and some didn’t.
I realised that I was gradually becoming more mindful naturally throughout my days- for example, being more aware of my surroundings, bringing my mind back to the now when it was wandering and spending less time multi-tasking.
I learned two key things about being mindful, which I’m passionate about sharing with my audience. One, individuality within your mindfulness practice is something to be honoured. There are so many ways of being mindful, I love encouraging people to find what truly works for them and their lifestyle. Two, mindfulness isn’t just about “practicing.” Over time, it will become less about “this is my ten minutes to practice mindfulness” and more about being mindful regularly throughout each day.
Q. How did mindfulness practice change your approach to life?
A. In many ways! I’m more grateful. I accept where I’m at in life, rather than constantly looking forward and waiting for “the next exciting thing” to make me happy. I often notice the little things- pretty colours, a warm hug, a compliment, rain on the roof, different smells, a refreshing shower. I wake up and bring myself into the present, rather than straight away feeling stressed and already a few steps behind. I’m more attentive to my wants and needs (and the needs and wants of the people around me). In one word, I would say my approach to life has simplified.
Q. What are your top three tips for people who struggle to be mindful?
A. First of all, be forgiving towards yourself. It’s ok if your mind wanders during your mindfulness practice. It’s ok if you forget to be mindful while you eat, or walk, or wake up. It’s ok if you have to re-focus on your mindfulness practice fifty times. We can put so much unnecessary pressure on ourselves, but I’ve found that letting go of this pressure and being forgiving of ourselves can be a very valuable lesson to learn during our mindfulness journeys.
Secondly, explore your mindfulness practice. Make it fun! You are a unique individual- you will resonate with some practices more than others. At my live workshops, I share three different breathing techniques and at the end, ask for everyone to raise their hand for their favourite technique. Every single time, hands go up for each different technique. Allow yourself to discover mindfulness practices which resonate with you and integrate well into your own life.
Thirdly, when you’ve found the mindfulness practices which resonate with you, make it easy to practice them! If you enjoy smells (like I do!), use more spices when you cook, keep a fragrant candle or essential oil at your work station and organise adventures which give you opportunities to explore different smells (such as gardens or berry farms). If you enjoy mindful walks, set aside time to go walking and discover new walking paths or hiking trails in your area. If you prefer meditating, buy yourself a comfortable cushion, attend yin yoga classes or download meditation apps on your phone.
Q. What are your views about mindfulness based approaches to therapy such as mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT)?
A. There are a few reasons why I believe mindfulness based approaches are beneficial for the community and could help improve wellbeing.
Mindfulness has become widely known and recognized by many people, which may make it more of a “user-friendly” type of therapy. This might encourage people who were reluctant to seek help previously to be more open to attending therapy.
Mindfulness based approaches also encourage awareness and acceptance- two powerful methods of understanding the self, developing management techniques (and actually using them when required!) and building resilience. I know from my own experience (and what I’ve heard from people in my audience) that awareness and acceptance were integral in managing stress and challenging situations or emotions.
Further, mindfulness can be difficult to implement for beginners (and, potentially, confronting), which can deter them from continuing with the practice. With the proper support and guidance, mindfulness based therapies can provide individuals with a solid platform upon which to confidently build an ongoing mindfulness practice.
Rachael Kable is a mindfulness mentor, blogger and host of The Mindful Kind podcast.