What does mindfulness mean to you? Whether you’re the kind of person who gets stressed by life’s travails or not, or you suffer from anxiety or depression, we’re all being encouraged to connect with our minds. Life is hectic, so mindfulness, in its most basic form, is the ability to focus in the present moment. To find out more, BESTFIT met Rohan Gunatillake, creator of Kara, Sleepfulness, Designing Mindfulness and the best-selling hit app buddhify. Rohan was named by Wired in their Smart List of 50 people who will change the world.
Rohan, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a natural ability we all have to be aware of what is happening in our experience while it is happening. It’s also known as present-moment awareness or ‘being in the present moment’. Through meditation, we can train the quality of our mindfulness and depending on what techniques we use and what our motivations are, we can improve different parts of our life.
How and when should you practice it?
Whenever you can! Most people think of mindfulness and meditation as a very static thing, as something you do when sitting down in a quiet place. That is certainly the traditional form of meditation, but I’m more of an advocate of mindfulness on the go, where one can train yourself wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. So, given that most people struggle to find time for the more formal seated meditation, the best place to start is with techniques you can do when you’re, for example, walking, eating or going to sleep.
Who should practice it?
What mindfulness ultimately helps is for us to become more aware of our experience, more aware of our minds, our thoughts and our habits. And the more awareness we have over those habits then the less power they have over us. So, anyone who is interested in a bit more freedom for difficult thoughts and emotions should maybe give mindfulness a try.
What are the benefits?
It depends on what you’re looking for and most interested in. Typical benefits for people new to meditation include better sleep, more focus and the ability to deal with stress and other difficult emotions. Personally, I’ve found that the biggest benefit is that through greater awareness and sensitivity, the relationships in my life are better. I’m a better listener, less caught up in myself and when I’m with people I am actually with them.
People seem to be more aware of mindfulness than ever. Why is that,
do you think?
The big recent wave of interest has largely been driven by the increase in research and scientific evidence into the benefits and effects of meditation and mindfulness. That science has led to mindfulness having a legitimacy that it’s never had before has allowed it to enter contexts as diverse as healthcare, business, education and even elite sports. Take that diversity of usage and add on top the wide range of mindfulness apps that are now available, and it has never been easier to give it a go.
What is it about modern life that makes it so stressful?
So many things! I can’t speak for anyone else but my personal sense is there is the feeling that we are being constantly swamped – with data, with things to do, with constant difficult news and it can feel very overwhelming.
Do people need to be anxious, stressed or depressed to be mindful?
The majority of people get into mindfulness because they have some kind of problem or challenge they want some help with but it’s not essential, it just means you’re motivated to give it a go.
My own journey was that I was just interested in how my mind works and that curiosity led me to going to my first meditation class.
Your journey has led to one of the most popular mindful apps in the world!
I first got into meditation just before starting work for a big technology company in London. And what I found was that as much as I loved the meditation tradition I was training in, it wasn’t teaching me how to practice in the city, with technology, when dating and all the other elements of modern life. So I started adapting and remixing classic techniques and working out how to practice wherever I was, and found that to be a really powerful approach when balanced with more conventional formal meditation. Then, back in 2011, I decided to combine my professional background in technology and my personal background in meditation to make a mindfulness app, and buddhify was born. Designed specifically for people who feel they don’t have time for mindfulness or feel it’s not for them, the early version did sufficiently well that over time I stopped doing all my other work and I now run a small company full-time which makes buddhify and other products. It means so much to have helped so many people all over the world.
5 WAYS TO BECOME MORE MINDFUL
1 Technology. Yes, perhaps try not to rely on it so much, but similarly don’t feel you’re a failure for simply picking up your phone or tablet. Technology can actually aid your path to inner calm.
2 Be aware of your distractions. Identify what are you biggest distractions. Facebook? Twitter? If you know what they are, you can better understand the triggers that take you there, and do something about it.
3 Suits you. Don’t think that you have to be on your own in a dark room to be mindful. Try it on the commute home, in bed, where ever feels comfortable.
4 Don’t think mindfulness will solve all your problems. It might not. However, try and identify a particular outcome you want to achieve, to stress less or be more focused, for example, and work towards achieving that.
5 Name your thoughts. Give any difficult emotions you’re feeling a name. This will help you realise that these feelings are just thoughts, not anything you need to act on.
Download Buddhify from the app store