Wake up and smell the coffee
It seems that everyone is talking about Mindfulness. There have now been countless research studies on the efficacy of mindfulness in improving mental health and wellbeing. The great news is, it’s not hard to learn and with a commitment to practice regularly everyone can experience its benefits.
Mindfulness has its origins in meditation traditions of eastern religions and has been around for over 2500 years. There are many types of meditation, mindfulness is just one of them. Mindfulness practice as used as a tool in counselling and psychotherapy has been adapted to remove any religious reference or connotation so that it may be used by anyone no matter what their spiritual beliefs may or may not be.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness at its most basic refers to focusing your awareness on the present moment , what you are seeing, hearing, smelling and what you are feeling both emotionally and physically right now. Observing and noticing without judgement what you are experiencing in this moment. Noticing is key.
How can mindfulness help our mental health and wellbeing?
When we learn mindfulness we become more aware and more attuned to what we are thinking about, what we are doing and what we are feeling. Not being aware of what is going on for us can be particularly problematic if we suffer from mental health issues (and everyone does from time to time). Not recognising whether we are feeling sad or anxious for instance, because we are on ‘auto pilot’, gives us little opportunity to make changes so that we feel better. Likewise, it is easy to get caught up thinking unhelpful thoughts about past events –regret about what we could have done or said- or anxiety and worry about something in the future that might or might not happen. Ruminating in this way about things that we have no control over only makes us feel worse and is a big part of depression and anxiety.
Being present centred means that we are not thinking about the past, where a lot of our depression may be focused and not anticipating the future, which may cause worry and anxiety. Over time regular mindfulness practice can help us to become aware more quickly when we move into unhelpful thinking and to bring our attention back to the present. At its essence it is mind training.
The benefits of Mindfulness
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) learning and practicing mindfulness regularly has been shown to :
*Help manage difficult emotions such as anger and low mood
*Improve concentration , attention and memory
*Reduce overall anxiety and stress
*Increase awareness and life satisfaction
How can I become Mindful?
Learning to become mindful is not hard but as with all new skills requires practice and commitment Learning a ‘mindfulness practice’ is a good place to start.
Using the breath as an ‘anchor ‘ to focus your attention is the most common way of learning a mindfulness practice. This means that we focus on our breath, one breath at a time going in and out, with out doing anything to it. Just observing . Just watching. You may focus on the air as it goes through your nostrils or of the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen . When I focus on the breath I have a mental image of my lungs as if they were a set of wings going up and down with each breath. Even after just a few focused breaths you might find that your mind will drift off to something else. It maybe a sound outside, discomfort in part of your body , something that has been worrying you or even what you are going to have for dinner tonight. When you notice that you are no longer focused on your breath bring your attention back to the breath. In this way the breath becomes a place that you can always return to.
You can expect that when you first start a mindfulness practice you will drift away from the breath many, many times. This is normal and how our minds’ work. It is not the goal of mindfulness to stop thoughts but rather to not ‘follow’ or attach to them. After doing a regular mindfulness practice your mind will become more disciplined and not wander off quite so quickly and when it does you will notice sooner to bring it back to the breath again.
Many teachers of mindfulness practice suggest that you should practice for twenty to thirty minutes a day. This is really quite a long period of time for many people and research has shown that just ten minutes a day will bring results after just a few months. Ten minutes is a good place to start and certainly achievable for most people. Put your phone on timer so that you are not continually thinking about whether “ it is time yet’. Sit comfortably with as straight a back as you can manage but you don’t have to sit cross legged. In a chair with your feet resting on the ground is fine. Sometimes people fall asleep especially when they are first starting. If you do its ok, but it is better to stay awake. The goal of a mindfulness practice is to remain awake and alert but in a deeply relaxed state.
As well as a formalised mindfulness practice that you put time aside to do every day, getting into the habit of regularly 'Checking in' with yourself throughout the day is a great way to bring mindfuless into the rest of your life. Bringing yourself back to ‘now’ and what is going on for you in this moment. Getting into the habit of asking yourself ‘How do I feel?’ ‘Am I ok?’ ‘What do I need to do to look after myself right now?’ rather than waiting until you are in the grips of being overwhelmed, over tired or even just hungry (or hangry!).
To find out more about mindfulness and how it can help improve your mental health and wellbeing contact Cate