‘Mindfulness’ is a word we hear a lot now a days and we all say we want to try and be more mindful. But do we fully understand what mindfulness is? Do we know what benefits it really can bring to our mental health? This article will help you understand the answers to these questions and give some examples of good practice of how to be more mindful.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to the knowing of what is going on directly inside, and outside, of ourselves in each moment as they go by. It is paying more attention to the present moment, to our own thoughts and feelings and what is happening in the world around us.
It is very easy for us, especially in this current time, to stop noticing these things and to get lost in distractions. When this happens, we lose touch with our body and can become obsessed with negative thoughts, something that has happened or be worrying about the future. This then causes us to be anxious which in turn then affects our mental health.
An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations that we are experiencing. This includes sights, smells, sounds and tastes that are in the present moment. The good news is that we all have the quality of mindfulness inside us, it is just about learning how to access it.
How Can Mindfulness Benefit Our Mental Health?
By becoming more aware of the present moment and what is happening around us, we are able to actually enjoy the world and understand ourselves better. We will notice the smell of the flowers in the kitchen as we walk in to make our morning tea, we will hear the laughter of our children as they play and we will feel the happiness inside when we realise how grateful we are for all these things around us.
Mindfulness allows us to understand our thoughts and feelings when faced with different situations and how we can become trapped in negative thoughts that are not helpful to us. We can train ourselves to recognise when our thoughts are taking over and how to stop this happening, therefore relieving the anxious state quicker and not letting it take over us.
We all have situations, issues, problems that we find hard to overcome. The act of brooding over something that has happened, being annoyed because something hasn’t quite gone the way that we had planned, is not a productive way to deal with it. Realising that we are getting caught up in our thoughts and letting go or finding a solution rather than a problem through being mindful, can significantly put ourselves in a better mental state.
When we’re mindful, we reduce stress, and enhance performance in situations. We can gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, and along with all this we can increase our attention to others’ well-being too.
For more information visit the NHS website
How To Be More Mindful
The first step to becoming more mindful is to stop and remind ourselves to take notice of our body sensations, our thoughts and feelings and the world around us. It is always good to keep this practice regular and picking a time of day to repeat it daily can help us to remember. Maybe on a walk in your lunchbreak, or your drive to work, during which you take note of the world around and what your senses are telling you.
Mindfulness isn’t about making bad thoughts go away, we all still need these and they are completely normal to have, but more about changing the way we see them. Try to see these thoughts as mental events. An imagery exercise to help might be to imagine these thoughts as ‘thought buses’. Imagine you at a bus stop and these ‘thought buses’ come and go but you don’t need to get on them and the thoughts are being taken away.
Some people find it easier to free their busy mind by doing yoga or tai chi. Yoga is gentle exercise which uses your breath to guide your body. When focusing on your breath, your mind isn’t busy with negative or worrying thoughts and you can be in the moment listening to your body and the feeling in your body and this makes you be in the moment.
A simple way to help you become mindful is sitting in a way that is ready for meditation practice. Follow these steps taken from Mindful.org below or use the link for some other mindful practices.
#1 Take your seat. Whatever you’re sitting on, make sure it is a spot that gives you a stable solid seat. This could be a chair, a meditation cushion, a park bench.
#2 Notice what your legs are doing. If you are sitting on a cushion on the floor, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, ensure the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor.
#3 Straighten—but don’t stiffen— your upper body. The spine has a natural curve. Let it be there.
#4 Place your hands comfortably. Let your hands be rested on the tops of your legs. With your upper arms at your sides, your hands will land in the right spot. If you go too far forward it will make you hunch and too far back will make you stiff. Listen to your body.
#5 Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. It is not necessary to close your eyes when being mindful or meditating. You can still see what is in front of you without focussing on it
#6 Be there for a few moments. Relax in this position. Notice how your body feels and what it is saying to you.
#7 Focus on breathing. When you are in a comfortable position, feel your breath as it goes out and as it goes in. Inevitably, your attention will drift off to other thoughts or feelings, this could happen within a few seconds or a few minutes. When you realise your attention has drifted, bring it back to the breath.
#8 That’s it. That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The thing to do is to just keep doing it.
If mindfulness is something you feel you could benefit from exploring further, we often run Mindfulness Courses. Keep an eye on the page for future dates and information.