Person meditating on the beach at sunrise with palms in chin mudra

Free mindfulness apps to improve wellbeing

We have a problem…

To say that we live in a busy world is a pretty big understatement. We are constantly connected to the internet for work and play. We are bombarded endlessly, with negative messages about the state of our world.

We work long hours, our jobs are becoming more stressful and we often struggle to maintain work/life balance. Our cities are becoming busier and more expensive to live in, so we work even harder. It’s no wonder that we are struggling. Our young people are struggling too.

Headspace and the National Union of Students annual survey found that about a third of the 2,600 Australian university and TAFE students surveyed had considered self harm or suicide in the past 12 months. It also found two thirds reported very high psychological distress in the past 12 months; almost 80% had felt anxious and more than half had experienced panic.

As an educator, I have seen first hand the impacts mental health issues, particularly anxiety, can have on young people. I have also seen the positive impact that placing higher importance on wellbeing rather than academic success can have on the life of a young person.

This is why, in my class, I taught mindfulness daily and it worked! I saw huge improvements in my students social relationships, their ability to solve problems and apply mindfulness tools in the heat of the moment. They enjoyed our mindfulness sessions so much, that if I missed one, they were quick to let me know!

What is mindfulness and how can we use it to improve our mental health and wellbeing?

 
Mindfulness is an essential life skill. Like all skills it is something we must learn and get better at with practise. Mindfulness is about understanding the link between our thoughts and our behaviours. If we allow ourselves to become consumed by the chatter in our minds, especially when this chatter is concerned with worries about the past or future, it can lead to stress, anxiety and even depression.

Mindfulness creates space in our mind and gives us time to think about how we might react or behave in certain situations. This gives us greater control over our emotions and behaviours which can help to improve our social interactions and relationships with others. It also gives us clarity so that we can see solutions – often referred to as growth mindset. All of these things can help to reduce stress and have a positive impact on our mental health.

By being mindful, we are training our brains to focus on the present moment and create a calmer state of mind. Being mindful doesn’t have to be a chore! Creating space for just 10 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation can have a massive impact on your wellbeing and can also be lots of fun!

Free mindfulness apps!

Here are three mindfulness apps that got a regular workout in my classroom and that I continue to use today. Why not give them a try?

Smiling Mind

Smiling mind aims to build a mindful generation of happier, healthier and more compassionate people. For both kids and adults, this app is easy to use and is quite intuitive. Once you’ve selected your age group, this app will give you a set of guided meditations designed to build upon your mindful meditation experience over time.

Headspace

Headspace is designed to be your very own personal trainer for your mind. Both adults and kids will find this app highly engaging as social interaction with friends and community is encouraged. Begin with the free take 10 program to learn the basics of mindful meditation, and if you want more, you can subscribe. Subscribing unlocks heaps of research based mindfulness content including guided and unguided meditations from 10 minutes to an hour. The app also allows you to focus on specific areas relating to your own life and includes Headspace SOS for guidance during ‘meltdown moments’.

Stop, Breathe & Think

Mindfulness in a nutshell – Stop, Breathe and Think. This app will help you find your peace in five minutes. By stopping what you are doing, checking in with your thinking and how you’re feeling. Creating space between your thoughts, emotions and reactions by practising breathing techniques. Broadening your perspective and your force field of peace with personalised activities and meditations tuned to your emotions. Created by Tools for Peace, a not for profit organisation dedicated to helping at risk youth experience the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.

Kylie in eka pada rajakapotasana (half king pigeon posture) variation.

Tips to cultivate a nourishing home yoga practice

I love the connection and community of practising regularly at my local yoga studio. However, for those times I can’t get to the studio or when I want to work on something specific, I practise yoga at home.

Sometimes, my home yoga practice is a journey to bliss. Other times, it can feel like an epic battle against my mind. After one incredibly frustrating day on my mat, I took some time to reflect upon the essence of a nourishing home practice. Since then, I have been able to cultivate a gentle and compassionate home yoga practice, led with my heart rather than my head.

Here are my top tips to cultivate your own nourishing yoga home practice. I hope they work for you too…

Clear a space and create your temple

Find a space in your home and set it up for practice. When the weather is good, I love nothing more than practicing outside on my deck. If it’s too chilly outside, I head indoors. Whatever space you choose, take some time to clean it up and create your temple by filling it with things you love.

I love candles, oil burners and indoor plants and have added these to my own space. Once you have created your temple, set up your mat and any other props you have such as pillows, blankets or blocks. If you don’t use props, it’s ok, having the space and mindset to practise is all you need! Now, put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ and settle into your pre-practice ritual.

Create a ritual

Rituals can help to settle your mind, bring you into your body and onto your mat. This includes pre-practice rituals such as lighting candles, burning essential oils or playing music. Once you bring yourself to your mat, settle in with intentional breathing (pranayama) exercises to quiet your mind. Yoga Journal have some excellent pranayama techniques you might like to incorporate into your home yoga routine. Now you’re ready to practise!

Set an intention & be honest with yourself

Each yoga practice should be purposeful and personalised – be honest with yourself about what your body and mind need as well as the time and space you have available. After all, by practising yoga, we are learning about who we are and who we want to become.

An intention I’ve been working with lately is to let go of my expectations and move my body with love and compassion. Your intention will become the thread that ties your practice together. Will it be 5 minutes of drills or half an hour of flowing practice? Will it be energising and sweaty? Or slow, grounding and meditative?

Listen to what your body needs, reflect upon what has brought you to your mat and honour this through your practice. Let go of the idea that your home yoga practice should replicate the yoga studio otherwise you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Lead with your heart, rather than your head

This is something I am still learning to do. Leading with my heart and letting go of expectations or pressure I place upon myself to practise yoga perfectly. What really matters is that your practice comes from your heart, that it nurtures, inspires and helps you to grow.

Each time your head starts to take over, close your eyes, breathe and come back to your intention. I also find taking restful breaths in child’s pose can bring my awareness back to my body and quiet the chatter in my mind.

When we lead our practice with our heart we can truly let go and find freedom. We stop worrying about what each pose should look like; we practise from a place of unconditional love and compassion rather than judgment.

Enlist the professionals

If you are just starting out and feel like you might not have the experience to lead your own yoga practice. Or perhaps you’re an experienced yogi wanting your practice to be directed? Apps, DVD’s and virtual classes can help.

I have used the free version of the Down Dog app and it was really useful when I didn’t have the inclination to plan my own sequence. I’ve also used yoga DVD’s and many studio’s are now bringing their classes to your home through online yoga subscriptions.

While apps, DVD’s and online classes have their place, there are some drawbacks. First of all, they aren’t intuitive – they don’t know your intention, level of experience or how you’re feeling. They also don’t know if you’re carrying an injury.

Use these with caution and remember to let your heart be your guide. If your body is telling you something doesn’t feel good – listen to it! Pause the program and take some rest. You can always come back to it later on.

Another alternative is to enlist the help of a registered yoga teacher. Many yoga teachers, such as myself, offer private yoga classes that are tailored to your goals and your body. We can help you to create a detailed plan for practise at home.

We also teach you the purpose of each asana and how to practise it safely. Through one on one yoga classes, you will be bringing a much deeper and authentic understanding to your home yoga practice, with a plan tailored just for you.

Interested in booking a private yoga class with me? I’d love to hear from you!

Post – practice ritual

You may have noticed I’m big on rituals! Once you’ve finished, seal your practice with another ritual. This doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. The simple and loving act of thanking yourself, or sitting in quiet contemplation with a steamy pot of herbal tea, are both sure ways to stay in your post yoga bliss!

I hope my tips inspire you to create your own home yoga practice. I hope they lead you to a journey of bliss rather than a battle against yourself. Please feel free to share your home yoga experiences and tips by leaving a comment.