In Conversation with Emma Mills: Mindfulness, Creativity and the Power of 'Doing Nothing.'
Teacher and mindfulness expert Emma Mills’ Inhale. Exhale. Repeat is a YCN favourite; exploring where mindfulness can be found over the course of 24 hours in a noisy city, and offering practical and insightful advice to bring mindfulness into your day-to-day. Here, Emma walks through some simple things you can do to introduce calm to your workday, the benefits of a mindful organisation, and the surprising power of doing ‘nothing.’
Hello Emma, could you start by introducing yourself and your work?
My name is Emma Mills, and I’m a wellness consultant and author. I worked for the mental health charity Mind after my psychology degree with a focus on group reading and poetry as a therapy, which became my specialism. It was during my time there I became involved in meditation, which really fascinated me.
I found that meditation, mindfulness and art speak to something not always talked about in traditional psychology; the inner self. So, after a few years, I opened up a wellness studio in Shoreditch, exploring the overlap of art and mindfulness with people in advertising, banking and start ups. I began my blog, and started work on my book - Inhale, Exhale, Repeat - which is set over 24 hours, showing times in the day where meditation wisdom could be helpful. I wanted to make people who have this busy life feel like mindfulness and meditation could be for them.
When someone brings a mindful approach into the workplace, what kind of effect does it have?
If each of us studied mindfulness and then came back to work, we wouldn’t see any difference in our personalities. We’d still be the same person inside, but things become nicer; easier. People who study mindfulness slowly become better listeners, become more creative, more able to manage stress - just happier overall.
One of the nicest benefits of introducing meditation and mindfulness to the workplace is that people become more aware, more present, less ‘on autopilot.’ They begin to see the world in more objective terms and get things done with less stress. That increased awareness is wonderful.
The workplaces I've enjoyed the most are the ones where I, and the people around me, were happy. A good team with kind, happy and creative people is a massive boon to productivity. And, if mindfulness is brought in, those qualities are encouraged and given room to blossom.
People who study mindfulness slowly become better listeners, become more creative, more able to manage stress - just happier overall.
What mindfulness tools, tips and techniques have you found the most useful?
Mindful breathing is a great one. Simply watching the breath in, watching the breath out, and learning to take nice belly breaths rather than short, shallow ones is incredibly effective. And one of the best things about it is that you can do it at your desk, at home, in bed, anywhere. It’s a really accessible way to calm down and become more present, more aware. It might seem very basic, but it works wonders.
Another thing that I love is mindful walking; being in nature is good for every dimension of your wellbeing. It takes you to that quiet place that we go to with meditation or great music. If you take the time, you see a lot of life, and that goes for both the city and the country.
Something that I found very helpful, especially at work, is to have moments where you stop and consciously do nothing. If you're about to start a project, if you don't know where to begin or don't know what to do next, or if you’ve reached a plateau, something that can really help us is to just stop, close your eyes, sit where you are and be unoccupied for a moment or two. By letting the momentum go and being present, new inspiration will often come to you.
Mindful art or mindful creativity is another great tool. For example during my lunch break or when I'm on the train, I’ll dip into a poem. Poems are great because they're small, but also they also encourage you to be reflective and take your time.
By letting the momentum go and being present, new inspiration will often come to you.
What's what is the most common mistake people make on the beginning of a mindfulness journey?
It's a tie between trying to get rid of thoughts, and impatience.
People have the idea they’re not meant to be thinking. When they sit down for the first time and close their eyes, inevitably there’s loads of thoughts. They think ‘oh, this is terrible, I'm not doing it well.’ Then the more you try to push them away, the worse it gets. It's a skill that you build. Thoughts become less sticky over time and they become more sparse, but to launch a campaign against them means you get drawn into the bath water and it becomes worse. It's not anyone's fault; it's something that they pick up from just reading snippets here and there.
Lack of patience is also a common thing. Mindfulness and meditation takes practice, but oftentimes people open an app when they’re already stressed to make that feeling go away. It's better to build that muscle in advance of stressful moments, and to bring patience to the act of meditating itself. Then you open something new. When you're not forcing it, then you relax quicker.
What books should we be reading in 2022?
I would recommend the poetry anthologies of Daisy Goodwin. They’re super small, and you can just carry them on the tube and dip into them. And if you want something larger, I recommend A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year.