Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focussing one’s awareness on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. It is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
Sounds easy in theory….except for the annoying fact that our mind tends to wander from the matter at hand. It can veer off on tangents, making us lose touch with our body. Whether it be thinking of something that’s just happened to us, or worrying about the future, this can lead to feeling anxious.
Mindfulness can be cultivated through techniques, such as seated, walking, standing, and moving meditation (it’s also possible lying down but often leads to sleep); short pauses we insert into everyday life; and merging mindfulness practice with other activities, such as yoga or sport. Being curious and in the moment during everyday activities
How is mindfulness different from meditation?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation. Meditation can seem like a scary, alternative practice and people can get hung up on controlling their thoughts. However, meditation begins with the body. It involves taking the time to pay attention to where we are and what’s going on. This starts with being aware of our body. This itself can be calming, as our body has internal rhythms that help it relax if we give it a chance.
Scientific Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to help people reduce their stress levels and be more focussed. Improved performance and better sleep are other associated benefits. When we are mindful we also gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind and increase our attention to others’ wellbeing.
Studies have shown that 8 weeks of practicing mindful meditation causes physical changes to the brain. An increase in grey matter, particularly in the areas associated with long term memory, attention, self-awareness and sensation, has been shown to occur. A reduction in the activity of areas in the brain related to anxiety, depression, stress response, fear and conflict also occurs. The ability to cope with pain better and an improved immunity have also been shown. Conversely not being mindful has been shown to have a negative affect on brain matter.
How can I practice Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, any time! You just need a comfortable seat and to be able to close your eyes.
One technique that may be a good starting point in practicing mindfulness is called the Comma. This can be practiced in between meetings, or to mark the end of one part of your day and the start of another. It acts like a mini reset, allowing you to finish one thought process and get ready to focus on another, to feel more engaged and present. Take one to two minutes to sit and close your eyes, be aware of how your body is feeling and notice your breathing. Take a few deeper breaths and then come back to your relaxed breathing before opening your eyes and moving to the next activity that awaits you.
Another mindful practice is the Body Scan. Set aside five to ten minutes to sit in a comfortable seat, close your eyes and focus your awareness on your body. Maintain relaxed breathing and start to focus your attention on the soles of your feet. Work your way through each body part until you reach the top of your head. As you work through each body part notice any tension and seeing if you can let go of any tension that you find there.
You might prefer to start by using an audio guide, or an app, until you feel comfortable to guide yourself through the process. Headspace is an app which offers a free 10-day beginner’s course that guides you through the essentials of meditation and mindfulness. And check out the link below for a guide to starting a five minute meditation to help get you started.
Simple things you can do to bring more mindfulness into your life include:
- Checking in with yourself when you first wake up -> stretching and feeling your whole body, noticing which foot touches the ground first, setting an intention for the day ahead
- Noticing the sounds around you throughout the day, the wind, rain, traffic noise, birds singing
- Notice your posture, the way you stand and sit, are there areas of tension in your body and can you breathe into those areas and get them to relax
- Spending a few moments during the day to notice your breathing and stopping to take a few mindful deep breathes throughout the day
- Connect with the sensory experience of eating – the taste, the smell, the texture. Tune into the effect of eating certain foods on your body. Reflect on where the food has come from, the fact that it grew somewhere and someone made it.