Mindfulness, a Busy life & our friends the Hippo, the Tiger & the Waterfall

Updated: Jan 10, 2020

So what do I hear most commonly from people? I don’t have time to practice Mindfulness, its about this or that, my life is too busy. Yet I hear, I’m stressed, I’m anxious, I’m not productive, I don’t get anything done.

I’m writing this blog to dispel some myths about what Mindfulness is and isn’t and in particular the myth that its all about some kind of strict regime or routine and meditation sitting on a cushion saying ‘ommm’ and the myth that you cant fit it into your busy life, that’s a myth too…no in fact I’m going to be a bit honest here, that’s a load of crap you absolutely can.

I’m also going to talk a little bit about my good friends the hippo, the tiger and the waterfall! You will know who these friends are if you have seen my masterclass or heard me talk about mindfulness before but you can absolutely make difference to these things – you might be thinking at this point I am some kind of weirdo…but trust me read on!

When I first learned mindfulness I was working in a busy, stressful job where I would come home and cry most nights, have sleepless nights worrying about work and was so anxious I would physically sweat and shake. I was introduced to mindfulness through studying positive psychology and wellbeing and I can honestly say it changed my life, but did I sit on a cushion and 'ommm' at any point? NO. Did I sit for hours on end meditating? NO…. I’m not going to say it was easy and there were multiple times I beat myself up about having a busy mind or the thoughts I was having or feeling weak at the anxiety I was feeling.

I was able to do it and create a Mindfulness habit for life around my busy life and my busy mind. It came in particularly helpful when I was juggling the busy stressful job and planning a wedding and I managed to fit in short morning meditations (or evening where I couldn’t do mornings) and the mindfulness habit just became part of my everyday. For example I used to get so impatient at queues in shops, literally could feel my heart beating as I got more and more impatient and counting to 10 to try and stop myself getting outwardly frustrated, thinking about how much of a waste of time it was and willing the queue or shop assistant to hurry up.

I now naturally just take the time to be in the present moment, notice the things and people around me and send kindness to the sales assistant who has the busy queue. The other day at a petrol station I could feel it creeping in, I know I’m not perfect but I counted the trees outside the petrol station to bring me into the present moment – random but it works. But the point I’m making is it only takes small habits and a small amount of effort and changes to bring mindfulness into your life and you can fit it around the busy schedule.

So anyway onto my friends the hippo, the tiger and the waterfall…what is she going on about I hear? So I’m taking us back to the science here and why mindfulness works.

So our brains haven’t changed much since caveman times and when we experience stress and anxiety it thinks that there is a tiger attacking us and we need to fight or run away, this is where the stress response and the anxiety comes in. Its there to protect us from danger, its our bodies getting us ready to fight and run away…but the kinds of things we get stressed and anxious about mostly in this day and age aren’t things we need to fight or run away from and this is where mindfulness can help.

Just a few minutes of mindfulness a day can help shrink down the part of the brain that is making this happen to us and help us be more resilient to stress and anxiety. Secondly our good old friend the hippo! The hippo is the part of the brain called the hippocampus, I always like to think hippopotamus, perhaps you are now really thinking I am a bit strange…anyway it helps me!!

So the hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory, and again Mindfulness can help actually grow this area so we remember and learn more stuff – how cool is that?

Then lastly the waterfall – so this is more than how we do mindfulness rather than what is happening to us. Jon-Kabat Zinn – one of the grandfathers of Mindfulness (he brought it from the East into the Western world) talks about us seeing our thoughts as if we were behind a waterfall, sitting back and observing them rather than getting caught up in the thoughts.

I talk about this in my blog about my retreat experience where I was getting caught up in the thoughts around what was going on for me rather than just focusing in the present moment. By sitting back we can more clearly ask ourselves, what are the facts here?

As a lot of the time we focus on the thoughts as our reality but by stepping back from them we can see whats actually going on for us. So that’s where the waterfall comes in, or if you prefer trying to see your thoughts as a cinema screen and you’re sitting back watching them play out. So you can do this approach at any point in time stepping back, you don’t have to be in ‘meditation’ pose or any particular part of the day, you can do this anytime and anywhere exactly like my example I said about counting trees at petrol stations! Very random I know but it worked for me and reduced my anxiety/stress and impatience!

So I hope this has dispelled some myths for you and helped you realise you can practice mindfulness, this is very much my teaching style, down to earth, realistic and fits around your busy lifestyle. I would love to help you fit Mindfulness into your busy life as I have…

You can sign up to one of the versions of my course here, I would love to work with you:


Gemma Sandwell - Mindfulness Teacher

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