Eight unusual ways to practise mindfulness

Jane Murphy / 07 March 2016

From trainspotting to pottery, how your favourite hobby could help you get into the present moment and boost your wellbeing.



Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment in order to better manage your thoughts and feelings. It's recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for people who have experienced recurrent depression.

You're probably familiar with some of the most talked-about techniques, such as meditation, but there's a growing body of evidence to suggest that many long-popular hobbies can also serve as effective mindfulness exercises because they encourage us to focus on the task in hand.

Related: Find out more about mindfulness techniques

Colouring

Colouring books for adults have soared in popularity over the past few years – with many specifically marketed as the perfect antidote to modern-day anxiety and stress.

The theory? Colouring-in allows us to focus on the moment and so switch off from other worries. Creating your own artwork can have the same benefits, of course, because it requires you to concentrate solely on the present and what's in front of you.

Pottery

Ready for your great pottery throw down? 'Transforming a ball of clay into your own creation can give you a huge sense of accomplishment and calm,' says psychologist and mindfulness expert Dr Saima Latif.

'The concentration necessary to produce a work of art helps centres your mind, allowing stressful thoughts to drift away. It doesn't matter if you're not particularly artistic. The simple process of connecting mind and body is enough to produce a sense of wellbeing.'

Gardening

The proven physical and mental benefits of gardening are numerous. Whether you're mowing a 60ft lawn or simply tending to a windowbox, it requires concentration on the task in hand and the prospect of a pleasing end result. For instance, just 30 minutes of allotment gardening each week significantly reduces stress and fatigue and boosts self-esteem, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Public Health.

Related: More health benefits of gardening

Lego

No, you don't have to be a child to play with Lego – but, like colouring, it allows you to reconnect with your carefree younger self. 'It conjures up that childhood feeling of being self-absorbed in play, with bright colours sparking the imagination to create anything we desire,' says Dr Latif. 'Children don't worry about the past or the future as they're too concerned with the present and what's right in front of them.'

Related: 10 reasons to act like a child again

Related: Brickipedia – the history of lego

Bird-watching

This is a hobby you can enjoy from your own home, simply by looking out of the window. 'Just taking a few minutes out of your day to watch the birds, focusing on their movements and interactions, can be a great opportunity to focus your busy mind on the present,' says Dr Latif.

But to fully reap the mindfulness benefits, do try to get out into the great outdoors. Just five minutes of exercise in a green space, such as a park or garden, is enough to lift your mood, according to researchers at the University of Essex.

Related: Getting started with bird-watching

Knitting

Need inspiration to finish that scarf? 'The rhythmic nature of knitting – knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one – is calming and comforting, and can be used in an almost meditative manner to have a positive impact on mental wellbeing,' says Dr Latif.

In a recent survey of 3,500 knitters, carried out by Cardiff University, 81 per cent said they felt happier both during and after knitting. Other crafts, such as sewing and quilting, can have a similar effect.

Related: Visit our craft and hobbies section for inspiring and absorbing projects

Flower-arranging

Creating a beautiful floral display requires concentration, contemplation and creativity – all of which helps push other worries to the back of your mind. In fact, simply looking at a vase of flowers serves as the perfect mood-lifting pick-me-up first thing in the morning, according to a Harvard study.

Related: How to start a flower-cutting garden

Trainspotting

'Trainspotting can be a hugely effective mindfulness technique,' insists Dr Saima Latif. 'The process of noting each train's number is very therapeutic. It provides you with the satisfaction of completing a goal and helps focus the mind, which in turn relieves stress. There are wonderful benefits to being in the great outdoors, too, with the opportunity to go "off grid" without a phone or internet connection. The beauty of trainspotting is that all you need is a pen and paper.' Tempted? Premier Inn has a list of nine great places for a trainspotting adventure.

Dr Saima Latif is working alongside Premier Inn (www.premierinn.com)

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