July 7, 2020

What is mindfulness?

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a recent buzzword, but has been practised by people all over the world for thousands of years. Once accessible only to devotees of religious or spiritual faiths (and The Beatles!), now this technique, backed by science, is used to manage health conditions ranging from chronic pain, anxiety, and depression to weight-management and infertility. It is used by elite athletes and organisations to enhance performance outcomes and has been investigated for use with dementia and traumatic brain injury patients.

We all can all benefit from learning how to be in the moment, to accept and detach from our thoughts. To allow change to happen right now!

  • Do you feel there’s not enough hours in the day to get everything done?
  • Are you exhausted just thinking about all the work you need to do?
  • Does your battery need a recharge or are you running on empty?

Mindfulness can help. Practising mindfulness helps you to get things done efficiently and effortlessly.

How does it work?

Mindfulness practice is strength-training for the brain. You’ll learn how to stop your mind ‘wandering’ and worrying about things that are not immediately actionable. When you need to get things done you can use your mindfulness skills to maintain focus on the task at hand. You become extremely efficient at time management. As a bonus, the practice of mindfulness meditation is both relaxing and energizing. Even a brief 5-minute meditation can supercharge your afternoon.

Mindfulness helps still the mind, allowing us to be present and connected with the world around us. It enhances our senses, engages our curiosity, and ignites a sense of wonder as we see life from a new perspective.

So where do we start?

Keep in Mind with Meditation

Whilst mindfulness sounds blissful, it can also feel daunting and beyond our reach. Meditation is an important technique used to induce a mindful state. However, some people get frustrated if they think they are not ‘doing it right’. There is no right or wrong way to meditate – there is only your way. Mindfulness and meditation are concepts, they are not ‘set in stone’. Whilst practitioners can provide a general guide it is important for you to find your unique way – what works for you. It may help you to keep in mind that mindfulness is both a journey and a destination.

The journey

The moment is always moving. Mindfulness is not a single moment but a series of moments, a flowing stream of time, never stagnant or old. The moment is always new!

The future becomes your present which in turn becomes your past. Mindfulness helps you move WITH time, as your future arrives it becomes your moment, which is fleeting and soon becomes your past. If you live in the future, you are moving too fast – be patient. If you dwell on the past you are moving too slow – let go.

The destination

In the moment you have arrived! You will know when this happens as it is a distinct feeling. Some say it is a feeling of clarity, of peace, or contentment. Others feel calm or joy. Your senses are strong, you may naturally become more aware of your body and feel like adjusting your posture or lengthening your spine. Your breathing may become deeper. There is nothing on your mind about the future or the past. It can feel like a fresh start.

At first this experience is fleeting, especially if you are interrupted whilst practising. Try to find a place where you won’t be disrupted – and turn off your mobile phone!

Tip: Focus on your senses: what you can see, hear, smell, taste, feel or taste. This strengthens and enhances the mind-body connection - messengers from the brain (neurotransmitters) communicate with hormones that are triggered by your senses. Yes, the mind-body connection is real!

Mindfulness is all about being aware of the moment- which is literally yourself and where you are right now. You start to notice the simple things. Taking time to 'smell the roses' is a great way to describe this awareness. Intriguingly, keeping it simple can take a bit of effort at first. As always, practice makes stronger. A mindful state can become a way of life. Little distractions that cease to bother you and eventually, you can maintain a mindful state even in noisy or crowded places.

What about my thoughts?

Mindfulness is not ‘not thinking’.  This is a common misconception. The idea of ‘trying’ to silence thoughts, block them, turn ‘negative’ thoughts into ‘positive’ thoughts, or protect yourself from ‘negative ’ thoughts is not the practice of mindfulness. These all require some level of judgement, analysis or rejection. The phrase ‘you are not your thoughts’ is more aligned with mindfulness. Except, in mindfulness you accept the thoughts regardless of where they came from or who they belong to. It is not necessary to analyse your thoughts at all!

Mindfulness is becoming aware of your thoughts, listening to your thoughts without attachment,  accepting your thoughts…….  and letting them go into the past as you move on. Some people find visualisation useful such as seeing thought as clouds,  or as paper notes floating down a river.

Mindfulness techniques

There are many ways that mindfulness can be learned and practiced in your daily life.

1# One of the best ways for you to begin your mindfulness journey is to start a daily meditation practice. Sitting with yourself in a quiet place, and focusing on one point such as your breath, can begin to allow peace and calm to flourish in your mind.

2# Mindful mealtimes. You can begin to use your regular mealtimes as mindfulness practice. Do this by really focusing on the sight, smell and taste of your food. Roll it around in your mouth, really taste it, and savour each mouthful slowly.

3# Mindful walking. Take yourself on a nature walk, and immerse yourself fully in what you see, hear and feel. Green tree leaves, brown trunks, blue sky, the sound of birds, wind on your face. Diving into this experience will bring a sense of calm to your day.

These basic mindfulness practices can have deeply transformative effects on your quality of life. Once you start on this journey you will see opportunities to practice mindfulness in the everyday moments.

Why practice mindfulness?

Mindfulness itself does not take negative experiences out of your life, it would be wonderful if it did. Rather, mindfulness helps you to respond differently when difficulties arise. The urge to react emotionally can be managed through mindfulness. For example:

  • You become aware of early physiological changes such as feeling hot or tense, before your thoughts and emotions even arise.
  • You gradually foster the ability to cultivate space and calmness in your responses by relaxing and focusing on your breath.
  • You start to accept your automatic responses and may even become awe inspired by this powerful mind-body connection.
  • Your perception of events changes, you stop judging your emotions, thoughts, and yourself.
  • You realise your reactions are based on memories of past experiences. They have served you well in situations like this before. Now it is time to let go, move on, and make space for new memories and experiences in your life.

Another wonderful benefit of mindfulness practice is the richness it brings to your everyday experiences. It allows you to begin to really notice things. Things like the delicious taste of your food, the beautiful warmth of the sun, or the lovely feeling of connecting with a friend. Noticing these things is what creates contentment and happiness in life.

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