After an incredibly stressful 12 months, it has become increasingly clear that we need to focus on our self-care and wellbeing. Many of us will resolve to take better care of our bodies in January, but how often do we think to care for our mental health in the same way?

Ann Ward, founder of Xhale, runs workshops in the ancient landscape of County Armagh's Slieve Gullion, has practiced meditation for over 20 years. As a result, she has created immersive, mindfulness experiences, courses and retreats using the gifts of meditation and nature.

"Mindfulness can be practised at any time at all – while you are sitting, walking, cooking, eating, or even just breathing. If you are focusing on the present moment and paying deliberate attention to the activity you are currently doing, then you are not thinking about the past or the future with all the associated worries, regrets, anxiety and negative thoughts," says Ann.

To help us take up a mindful resolution for 2021, Ann has shared five top tips to help you start on a path to rejuvenation:

Vitamin N
Spending at least 20 minutes per day in nature is so important to support our holistic health. Nature can nurture feelings of comfort and safety. Sitting or walking, particularly, in a forest setting has a number of health benefits. Use your feet to help you to connect to the present moment, notice all of the sounds around you, the smells, colours, touch the texture of the plants and notice your breath moving with the wind.


 

Gratitude
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Reflection nurtures contentment and cultivates appreciation of people in our lives and for the simple things in life, like the food we eat, the gentle breeze and the sound of the birds. Take time each day to practice gratitude and you will learn to appreciate life more fully in the present moment, resting from thoughts of fear or anxiety.

Mindful Cooking
This is real soup weather and mindful cooking is a wonderful way to ground yourself in the present moment. While cooking you immerse yourself in your senses, noticing the colours of the food, the textures, the chopping sound and motion, the sizzling as the food cooks, the changes in colour as it cooks, the rhythm of stirring and the flavours as you taste it.

Breathing Techniques
Breathing exercises are excellent stress management tools which keep your mind focused and anchored in the present moment. You can do breathing exercises anywhere and they will have a calming effect on your whole system. You can do them before you go into a situation which you know you will find stressful.

Squared Breathing
Sit comfortably on a chair, with your hands resting gently on your lap with your feet firmly on the ground with your back supported. Notice all the points of contact between your body and the chair. Imagine that your feet are like weights, anchoring you in the present moment. If you feel comfortable gently close your eyes. Then when you are ready, breathe in for a slow count of four, hold the breath for a slow count of four, breath out for a slow count of four and hold for a count of four.  Then repeat, breathing in for a count of four…

For more information on mindfulness activities and places to visit when government guidance permits travel again, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com.