Mindfulness-What is it and how do I get it?

March 17, 2017

 

Everybody's talking 'bout Mindfulness!  But what is it exactly and is it different from meditation. Lets answer the second part first. Both meditation and mindfulness are about being able to stay present and the quietening down of thoughts that run in our mind but while meditation can be about "zoning out" mindfulness is really all about "zoning in". 

Mindfulness is about bringing a non-judgemental consciousness to the present moment. It is a mental training intended enhance awareness and allow us to disengage from negative thought patterns, helping to cope with stress and anxiety. 

The benefits of practicing mindfulness are plentiful. It can help improve focus and concentration, enhance your ability to cope with stress, anger, anxiety and depression, you will have more appreciation for life, feel happier, liberate your creativity, and improve your relationships.  Also it has the ability to increase your physical health as mindfulness has been shown to slow down your nervous system giving the body greater opportunity to heal. This is all done through creating a deeper, more conscious connection to your body and mind. 

So how do you do it? The technique is simple but initially, it may not necessarily be easy. There are free guided mindfulness sessions you can download and this is the easiest way to get started. I have linked some of the ones I have used below. They range from a quick but effective 5 minutes to a full 40min session. But the beauty of mindfulness is you don't have to be sitting in a lotus position to practice it. Mindfulness can be done anywhere at anytime e.g.: mindfulness eating, walking, even washing the dishes! 

Heres how to start.

Find a quiet place to sit. Be comfortable. If you need back support, sit in a chair. Create a relaxing environment: oil burner or incense, candles or soft light and if it helps play some relaxing music (This is a really good one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-xE7pYgyH4) It's also helpful to have a timer so you can set it for however long you want. 

 

Close your eyes. Start to notice your body and the connection to the chair or surface you are sitting on. Feel what the texture is like against your skin. Adjust yourself so you feel very comfortable.

Now start to notice your breath as you breathe in and out. No need to change it or deepen it just notice it. What is its rhythm like? How does it cycle? Is it changing as you observe it? Feel the sensation as it comes in and out through the nose; listen to the sound it makes. Now pay attention to the breathe as it fills the lungs, expanding and contracting. 

As you tune into your breath you may notice that your mind is starting to drift; thats totally fine and expected. Just notice you are drifting and without judgement or criticism, label them thoughts or feelings etc and then gently bring your attention back to the breath. Continue for the time you have allotted. When the alarm sounds (its good if its a gentle sound) gently bring your focus into your whole body and its sensations, its connections with the surface you are sitting on and when you are ready, open your eyes and thank yourself for doing this. Sit quietly for a minute and feel the difference in yourself. You've done it!!!

 

Of course, this is just the start of being mindful. In therapy we use mindfulness to go deeper into our thoughts, to create some space around them in order to observe them. While I think it is best when someone is guiding you through this process, you can try it on you own. Here is a simple exercise to get in touch with and control those emotions that can take hold and cause stress, anger, depression or anxiety. You can also use it for chronic pain.

Firstly, write down 3 or 4 negative statements you often make about yourself, like, "I'm fat", "I'm a loser", "I am in pain" etc. Fuse with this thought for 10 secs, really connect with it and identify with it, believe it. Now replay the thought with the phrase: "I am having the thought that I am ..."  repeat it a few times. Then say it again with the phrase: "I am noticing that I am having the thought that I am ...."

Now breathing in and out, tune into yourself and notice any changes to the thought. Do you notice a sense of space around it? A distancing? 

From this position you should be able to observe the emotion, feeling or thought with a sense of curiosity. What's it like? Does it have a shape or weight to it? Is it light or heavy, cold or hot? Where do you feel it in your body? What other things do you notice about the sensation? Is it changing as you observe it?

Next, you want to hold that curiosity and breath deeply into the sensation, with each breath you are creating more space around it. You are breathing down into the feeling and breath is becoming an anchor for the emotion. Anchors don't make the storm go away but help you to ride it out and keep you steady. 

Once you feel the sensation has space around it and is anchored (not running amuck through your head), observe it again. Ask it what it has for you and why it does what it does? (You often find the emotion is trying to help you overcome something or keep you safe) 

This brings us to the final step, allowing it to "be". To accept that this is a part of you and you are simply going to let it be with you. 

What we are trying to do here is to put you, the Self, back in charge of your thoughts.  The emotions or feelings are part of you but they are not ALL of you. We don't and can't get rid of them but we can make them work with us. Think of the observing Self, your true unnameable essence which is curious and generous, as the leader of an orchestra calling in the different instruments as they are needed or signalling others to quieten down. 

This is just one of the mindfulness techniques that can used in therapy and they can change your life. I have sat in sessions with clients and used this above technique and am amazed at the results. The words my clients use are beautiful and liberating to hear. Things like " Oh I see its not here to hurt me", "In the chaos, I see my creativity", "For the first time ever I feel in control, not my emotions. I was afraid of them but now I see I am in control not them", " I feel lighter". Incredible stuff!

Mindfulness has given me personally a wondrous feeling of connection to all things and a such a feeling of contentment that it is hard to describe. When I sit in the present moment and  space around my thoughts open up, I am calm and accepting of the universe. If you are religious, it is like being in a state of Grace and living in the presence of God's love. There is nothing else but this moment, no past, no future; they are just mere concepts of the mind. 

 

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”Thich Nhat Hanh

Download mindfulness exercises here: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations

 

 

 

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