An introduction to mindfulness
Mindfulness is a term that has become increasingly popular in recent years in health and well-being. It is mostly about being present in the moment. It is not necessarily achieved through meditation, although this is one way of connecting to mindfulness practise.
The main connection to mindfulness practise is your breath. It provides as focus point, an anchor, for you to bring any wandering mind thoughts or feelings to. Your breath is always present and available to you, and as such, is a very reliable tool to employ when in need of one. You can train your mind to focus back on the breath whenever you wish to be in the present moment.
We lead such busy lives. Our minds are often thinking 100 different things at any one time: what we did this morning, did we lock the front door? Will Jonny be alright at school/work? Will I make the meeting in time? What are we going to have for dinner? Should I turn left at these traffic lights? I must remember to ring the dentist... we are capable of holding all these thoughts and more in our minds all at once. It is no wonder that we get stressed and overwhelmed!
Furthermore, if we spend all our time catching up with or ruminating about the past, or worrying about/planning for the future, thinking about the next thing, we run the risk of not living in the now, which means we will live our entire lives in our heads and never really fully experiencing an embodied moment.
Mindfulness slows us down. With practise, it gives us the ability to observe our thoughts and the ability to choose not to entertain or engage with them. Not all our thoughts are useful, and so this gives us choices, and can stop us falling into negative or unhelpful thinking patterns.
When we press the pause button, it opens up more possibilities. We can do this by taking a simple breath. Feeling your feet firmly on the floor, or your bottom on the chair, take one deliberate long breath in, feeling as it enters your nose, throat, lungs, pausing for a moment, perhaps noticing your stomach muscles being drawn in… and then releasing the breath, slowly, stomach going soft, up through the lungs, chest, neck, throat, mouth or nose and exhaling gently.
Repeat if you can, three cycles of breath is often long enough for us to be able to bring us back into our bodies. This simple three breath exercise can be done anywhere, and is particularly useful if you are beginning to notice signs of anxiety or unhelpful thought cycles.
Apart from the breath, there are other anchors in our day that we can choose to connect with practising being mindful. Mindful eating for example is a very useful way of experiencing the moment with your senses, slowing down your eating, noticing the food, colour, texture, shapes and smell. Noticing how your mouth anticipates the food and what happens to your taste buds once the flavours connect with your tongue. Observing sweet, sour, salty, crispy, soft, pleasant and unpleasant. Mindful eating can fully connect us with the present moment and give us a break from our thoughts.
Mindful walking, yoga, gardening, knitting, colouring, or anything that enables you to connect to ‘this moment’, whilst holding the activity or breath in awareness, is useful mindfulness practise. Practise is crucial. With practise, we can retrain and rewire our busy minds to have the ability to slow down and just be.
Sitting practises, or one such as the body scan, are excellent training and ongoing tools we can learn in practise on courses, through audio, film or books. There is no substitution for attending a workshop or course though, and the discipline of practise and support you receive as being part of a group process is invaluable.
If you are looking at mindfulness courses, be sure to choose a facilitator that has had formal mindfulness teacher training with a recognised establishment. Always ask if you are not sure.
Other resources (there are so many these are just a selection):
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Danny Penman and Mark Williams. Paperback 2011. Available on Amazon for around £10, this well known book comes with an accompanying CD and guide to the eight week mindfulness based stress reduction programme. This is widely read and well recommended.
Mindfulness for Health: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress, and Restoring Wellbeing by Vidyamala Burch. Paperback 2013. Around £10 on Amazon. Also comes with an accompanying CD, a useful book for those looking to manage pain with mindfulness.
The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. Paperback 2009, Mark Williams. Included a guided meditation CD. Around £15 from Amazon. A useful book for those wishing to learn mindfulness tools to help manage depression.
Full Catastrophe Living, How to cope with stress, pain, illness using mindfulness meditation: Jon Kabat-Zinn. Paperback 2013, around £20. A heftier read, recommended for anyone undertaking the eight week course, this is the founder of mindfulness, and the book that explains it all!
Headspace offers guided practises and makes meditation more accessible.
Buddhify, offers meditations for different scenarios and parts of the day.
Insight Timer, enables you to practise meditations with friends and/or others all across the world.