Nina is currently Head of Operations at the Fight for Peace London Academy, and has been practicing mindfulness for around eight years.  As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Nina tells us some of the ways that mindfulness and meditation can have a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing, and how it has helped her reconnect with herself and the world around her.

What is mindfulness?
Nina: I believe that mindfulness is about awareness.  It’s about slowing down and becoming aware of things other than our ticking thoughts. It’s about relaxing our nervous systems. It’s becoming aware of the breath we breathe, and our bodies. It’s about reconnecting to ourselves. We can often find ourselves wrapped up in the fight or flight response, especially if we live stressful or busy lives.

What inspired you to practice, and guide mindfulness?
It was actually Michelle, one of the youth workers at Fight for Peace who inspired me to join her on a mindfulness course eight years ago. I became even more inspired as I learnt how to meditate. This opened my mind to a lot of different and interesting things, inspiring me to re-evaluate my self-belief, spirituality, core beliefs, as well as the world around me. I think the Western world is not so much about the emotional side of things, and it doesn’t necessarily factor in the appreciation of nature, with all its growth and cycles. Mindfulness brings me to a place of ‘feeling’, which automatically makes me more relaxed. It has had quite a profound effect on me, and I wouldn’t be able to live without it now.

You touched on nature; do you think connecting with nature is an effective way to practice mindfulness?
N: Yes.  There are many different things nature can teach us. Some of the things I’ve learnt about nature is the importance of cycles and seasons. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter can be connected to women’s periods and menstrual cycles. Another example is the moon cycle, and what it teaches us about energy. In autumn, the leaves fall. Maybe we need to let go of some things that no longer serve us. Winter is a time of contemplation. During spring we grow and have more energy.

What are some examples of ways young people can practice mindfulness?
Deep breathing into the stomach has many positive benefits on our nervous systems. It also helps relax our bodies and calm our minds. If you want to try it, lie or sit down and close your eyes. Start by taking 10 deep, full breaths into your stomach. This is a good place to start, and something you can do easily after a situation you have found to make you feel anxious or stressed, and certainly before going into a situation you are not comfortable with.

Meditation and journaling are also great ways to step back and connect with ourselves and can help us discover different perspectives. Fight for Peace actually facilitates a yoga class which can really support mindfulness practice. I find all of these methods useful, and they’ve had a really positive impact on me. The last thing I will say is that talking to people about how you are feeling is mindfulness too.

Will mindfulness and meditation take a lot of time out of my day?  And what will it add to my day?
N: It can take as much, or a little time as you are willing to commit. It could be anything from 30 seconds of deep breathing, to attending an hour-long yoga class. Try not to put any pressure on yourself. Find a balance that works for you. Get curious and see what you like and don’t like. Maybe a walk in the park, listening to the sound of the wind and the birds for a few minutes.

For me and my experience, I liken it to sport and believe mindfulness and meditation is exercise for the brain, allowing us to reconnect with a part of ourselves that is often lost in our busy lives. The positives started small, and it was only through later reflection that I realised I had changed. Remember, not all the positives are felt at once, but it is an opportunity to slow down and take time out. Once you do it long enough, it becomes a habit, like how you get up and brush your teeth in the morning. 

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