Practising mindfulness in a pandemic

Ruth OrmstonDeputy director, the Mindfulness Institute
Tessa Jones
Tessa JonesNorthridge Law

Ruth Ormston and Tessa Jones from the Mindfulness in Law Group explain what mindfulness is, and how it might help solicitors during the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK has been in 'lockdown' for over a month now, and there are numerous self-care and wellbeing guides and tips being circulated on the internet and social media to try and help people manage and adapt to these unusual and challenging circumstances.

Among those offerings, there has been a surge in the interest in and takeup of mindfulness, with one mobile insights and analytics platform stating there has been a 25% increase in mindfulness app 'hits' during the week of 29 March in comparison to weekly averages from January and February.

So, what exactly is mindfulness, and how might it help in the current situation? Ruth Ormston and Tessa Jones from the Mindfulness in Law Group answer some of the commonly asked questions you might have.

The Mindfulness in Law Group meets once a month, so if your curiosity is piqued, see below for details on how to join the next session on 13 May.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness refers to the practice of paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally. Put another way, it means kindly paying attention to what you’re doing, when you’re actually doing it.

Although mindfulness is a trait that all of us inherently ‘have’, in a world where the draw of multitasking, and our use of technology, place constant competing demands on our attention, paying attention to the present moment can seem easier said than done.

So often we can find our minds catapulting ahead to the (usually fairly unknown) future, or stuck ruminating over something that has happened in the past. And it’s often at those times that we can feel more negative, anxious, or stressed.

At the moment, life is challenging for many. Those working in the legal profession are, like a lot of people in the country, largely working from home, trying to juggle work and family life as best they can, and unable to plan ahead with the same sense of certainty they would usually have.

Worries and anxieties might range from fears around health, the news and the pandemic, through to potentially more immediate concerns around shopping, work, planning the day and juggling work responsibilities and family responsibilities.

Mindfulness has been shown through research to help some people with depression, stress and anxiety. It can also help people with focus and attention, which may be particularly useful for people at the moment as they adjust to having no physical distance between their work and the rest of their lives, but still want to have some emotional 'headspace'.

Mindfulness is not a panacea or quick fix: it takes patience, regularity and practice. It is not right for everyone. But it has potential to help a lot of us with our wellbeing and the approach we take to what’s going on around us, as well as offering the opportunity for us to connect with others through (currently online!) group practices and sessions.

How do you practise it?

Kindly! On a practical note, many people practise mindfulness through breathing, body and movement exercises during which they gently bring their focus and attention back to an anchor point, again and again – noticing when their mind wanders off to a thought, or a sound, or a distraction, and then gently guiding their minds back to the anchor point.

However, you can also practise being mindful with everyday activities. You can be mindful while taking a shower, having a cup of tea, or even… eating some chocolate! With each activity, the invitation is the same: bring your attention to the sensations of the activity that you’re engaged in (what can you see, hear, feel, touch and smell), notice when your mind wanders off to something else, and then gently, without telling yourself off, guide your mind back to the direct experience of the activity again.

There is a short practice at the end of this article, as well as some resources that you can look at if you would like to give it a go.

What do you do if you’re too distracted right now or can’t do it? With everything that's going on at the moment, everyone is likely to be distracted a lot of the time.

Importantly, mindfulness is not about ‘clearing your mind’: it is about noticing when and where your mind goes off to, being aware of it, and kindly bringing your attention back to where the focus was.

If you sit down to notice your breath, and then two seconds later your mind wanders off to what’s happening in the news, or what you need to add to your online shop, or whether you sent the email you were thinking about earlier, then that’s completely normal. Our minds wander: it's what they do. A study by Harvard academics a few years ago found that on average our minds wander around 47% of the time.

Mindfulness is also not just about being relaxed or feeling calm. It is about gently ‘being with’ and turning towards your present experience just as it is, and whatever it is.

Practising mindfulness encourages you to respond skillfully to what your mind and body need in any given moment. Having the ability to non-judgmentally choose where we place our attention is something that can have a profound and transformative impact on our wellbeing during times of crisis but also in noticing and approaching our everyday lives differently when they go back to 'normal', whatever that might be.

A short mindfulness session to try

mindfulness guidance infographic

Find out more

There are numerous resources on mindfulness – here we’ve listed just a few.

The Mindfulness in Law Group usually meets every month to deliver sessions on mindfulness and is open to everyone working in the legal profession. The group is open to beginners and people who have any level of mindfulness experience.

The next session is taking place on Wednesday 13 May and can be booked via Eventbrite. To find out about future sessions, get in touch via email or follow the group on Instagram (@mindfulnessinlaw) or Twitter.

Free COVID-19 specific resources are available from the Mindfulness Initiative.

Gill Higgins, one of the founding members of the Mindfulness in Law Group, is offering free half hour practice sessions at 8pm on Tuesdays.

Freemindfulness.org has a dedicated COVID-19 site which lists sessions being offered by teachers across the globe.

You can also download our guide (PDF 106KB) to try this mindfulness session at home, whenever you feel you may need to.