What Is Mindfulness?
Finding ways to practise mindfulness that fit in with your life is essentially Mindfulness is essentially the quality of being fully present, the ability to ‘be here now’, and fully engaged with whatever you are doing in any particular moment. A key element in mindfulness is how we are present in this way – we learn through mindfulness to direct our attention to what is happening right here right now, with an attitude of kindness towards ourselves and our experience.
As we learn ways to practice mindfulness we learn to notice and to turn down the volume of the inner critic and the judging mind and to become aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. We train in this moment-to-moment awareness through formal mindfulness meditation, and informal mindfulness practises.
This evidence based ‘brain training’ allows us then to build the skill of mindfulness so that we can then apply it to everyday life. This “being with” ourselves is in contrast with more habitual states of mind in which we are often preoccupied with memories, fantasies, worries or planning. Although we are often unaware of the current of our thinking, it has a profound effect on how we live our lives, as well on our mental and emotional health.
Ways to practise Mindfulness as a superpower
This learning to be present is a superpower which will help us to respond more wisely rather than react when faced with stressful situations.Being mindful is living with moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations. Learning various ways to practise mindfulness shows us how is to allow thoughts, feelings and sensations to come and go, without judgement or the need to do anything with them.
Practising Mindfulness is essentially about noticing, observing gently and without judgment whatever is happening in thoughts, emotions and physical sensations in any given moment. It involves a gentle acceptance of whatever comes into your awareness in the moment. It’s not so much about reaching an end goal, but rather it is about exploring your own inner world – noting over time various ‘ habit energies’ that that drive you, motivate you, get in your way, or keep you stuck.
As you deepen the practise you begin to see how your thoughts, feelings or sensations influence each both other, and the way you respond to and engage on the world around you.
Research has shown that mindfulness can change the physiology of the body and brain in ways that strengthen, heal and protect. There are so many benefits that stream from mindfulness, all proven through research.
Key benefits of finding ways to practise Mindfulness that suit you
- Lowers stress. Mindfulness lowers the physiological markers of stress and improves the brain’s ability to manage stress.
- Restores emotional balance.
Mindfulness can help to improve emotional situations by keeping the emotional brain in check.
- Increases resilience.
Practising mindfulness for even a very short time if done regularly increases resilience to psychological stress.
- Reduces anxiety.
Learning to be Mindful reduces anxiety by increasing activity in the part of the brain that processes cognitive and emotional information, and the part of the brain that controls worrying.
Further benefits of learning ways to practise Mindfulness
- Reduces physical pain.
Building a Mindfulness practise has been shown to significantly reduce without activating the body’s opioid system.
- Reduces depression.
Mindfulness can reduce the symptoms of depression and the recurrence of depression.
- Uncovers our own blind spots.
Building the muscle of mindfulness can help to expand our awareness of our own internal world by uncovering our own blind spots in terms of patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour. This will help with better decision making and overall lability to both enjoy life and to respond more wisely to life’s challenges and stressors.
- Improve sleep quality, reduce fatigue.
A regular mindfulness practice can both improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia and fatigue.
- Improves concentration.
Mindfulness can improve executive attention, increasing the ability to concentrate and focus.
What You Need to Know Before Practicing Mindfulness:
You do not need to buy anything, wear any particular clothes or believe in anything in particular to benefit from evidence based ways to practise Mindfulness.
All you need is to devote a little time and space to practising your mindfulness skills every day.
Being a human means our minds are busy and as we learn ways to practise Mindfulness it is important to understand that there is no way to quieten or empty your mind of thoughts.
As you begin to practise mindfulness All you’re trying to do is to notice non judgementally and with great kindness whatever is happening in your internal world moment by moment. You are learning to become a kind observer of your moment by moment experience
Then as you practise you will notice the inner critic coming to centre stage. This is closely related to the last point and it is key if we are to learn to live more mindfully. We all have an inner critic and a judgemental mind. It is human nature to habitually listen to the critic in our heads more than we should.
In practising mindfulness we learn to notice judgments arise, make a mental note of them (some people label them “thinking”), and let them pass, recognizing the sensations they might leave in your body, and letting those pass as well. This gives us much greater freedom and choice in how we respond to challenging situations.
What to expect as you begin to practiseMindfulness
- Mindfulness is all about returning your attention again and again to the present moment. It seems like our minds are predisposed to get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the breath. We use the sensation of the breath or the body or anything else we choose as an anchor to the present moment. And every time we return to this anchor, we reinforce our ability to do it again. Building the muscle of mindfulness through intentional awareness of what is happening in any given moment.
- Your mind will wander. As you practice paying attention to what’s going on in your body and mind at the present moment, you’ll find that your inner world is a rich and busy place. Even in a very short practise your mind is likely to wander many times – something that happened yesterday, a regret or hurt from long ago, a desire for the future, to do list, a worry or upset …. Essential learning and apparently quite difficult for us humans to grasp when we notice our mind being busy and being anywhere rather than ‘here and now’, is that this is not a mistake, we have not one anything ‘wrong’ in our mindfulness practise.
- Noticing the wandering mind .Noticing the wandering mind is in fact according to the neuroscience the golden nugget – the moment of noticing the mind wandering is the piece that leads to healthier, more agile brains. So each time we notice the busy mind, each time we bring the mind back to where we intend it to be we are building the muscle of mindfulness.
How to Practice Mindfulness
So mindfulness is quite simple –be here now – but also very challenging for us humans in two ways in particular. Firstly we need to remember to do it and then we need to train our minds the harsh judgmental attitude and away from the inner critic, towards impartial observation of whatever is happening in the moment. Mindfulness is actually a discipline. Firstly It requires a decision to do something and secondly an understanding that as humans we need period of time – say a month – to develop a new habit.
Below are some suggestions to get you started –a formal practise and a range of informal ways to begin to bring mindfulness into your everyday life.
Short Mindfulness Practise
You might commit to this five days a week for four weeks to begin to build your mindfulness muscle.
- Take a seat. Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
- First set a time limit. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as 5 or 10 minutes.
- Then notice your body. Notice where the feet make contact with the floor, and the points of contact between the body and the chair. Noticing any sensations – pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
- Continue by noticing the breath. Follow the sensation of the breath as it goes out and as it goes in. Maybe notice the slight rise of the belly on an in breath and the falling back on the out breath.
- All though the practice notice when your mind has wandered. Inevitably, your attention will leave the sensations of the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing this—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—simply return your attention to the breath, and deliberately practise doing this nin judgmentally and with kindness.
- Finally practise being kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Just gently unhook and come back each time.
Six ways to practise mindfulness as you go about your ordainary everyday routines.
1. Eat mindfully.
When you eat, eat. When you drink, drink.
See if even initially for a small part of a meal you might stop doing other things ( watching a screen for instance , or planning what is next, or maybe flicking through a newspaper) and just focus on the food, Notice colour, texture, taste, smell…..even for a moment.
2. Walk mindfully.
‘Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.’
When walking see if even for a couple of moments you might pay attention to the movement of your body and your surroundings.
Then Notice as your feet connect with and leave the ground. Feel your muscles moving and supporting you. Notice something in nature – colour , smell, shape…
3. Observe your breathing.
‘A single breath in and out is a meditation’ Eckhart Tolle’
Your breathing occurs naturally and rhythmically. Instantly as you pay attention to it, it takes you out of your mind and into your body.
You momentarily free yourself from your churning thoughts, worries and fears. Try it even for four breaths.
4. Connect with your senses.
Notice your five senses – just for one moment – What can you see, hear, touch, smell, taste – right here right now just in this moment?
5. Pause between action.
Pause and listen to the sound of the phone ringing before answering it.
Slowly feel the weight of your body in your chair before beginning your work for the day.
Take time to feel the key before putting it in your hall door handle at the end of the day.
Putting mini pauses between actions in your day can ground you in your inner being, clear your mind, and provide you with fresh energy for the new task ahead.
6.Wash the dishes
Feel the warm soapy water on your hands, notice the surface and shape of each thing you wash, and dry.
Make yourself a drink and if possible sit outside to read this poen through a few times.
by Martha Postlethwaite
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.
Take some time to ponder these two questions:
- What will you do to ‘create s clearing in the dense forest of your life?’
- How will you take the time to create space so that when ‘the song of your life’ falls into your lap you will recognise it?