Introduction to Mindfulness
Mindfulness is an excellent tool that enables us to become aware of our self-care needs. As we engage in mindfulness, we become used to tuning into our emotional and physical needs on a regular basis. We are then more able to assess these and attend to anything that may require further attention or adjustment.
Mindfulness is a way of life. Although there are formal practices which provide an important grounding, the aim of mindfulness is to incorporate it into our everyday lives. It’s not something we do for a certain period of time and then forget about it, as we get on with the rest of our lives but rather, an approach to the whole of our lives so that it becomes part of who we are and how we live. The following quotation sums mindfulness up well:
‘Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.’
Over time, mindfulness develops within us a greater capacity to be more present in our lives and more accepting of things as they are at any given moment. For example, if we are already feeling under pressure and something takes place to add to the pressure, such as another driver cutting in front of us without indicating, we can choose with mindfulness to be more accepting of the situation and not take it personally. By becoming aware of physical sensations and thoughts and whatever else might be felt as a result of this other persons’ action, we are more able to take the time to choose how to respond, rather than to react automatically. When we are able to respond and not react impulsively, we are not adding further to the stress we may be experiencing in this moment.
Ordinarily, we all react in automatic ways to certain situations. Have a go at reflecting upon this now:
Recall a situation or person you are most likely to react in a particular way towards. Perhaps it’s easier to remember a fairly recent event. This is often something that triggers a particularly strong response in us such anger, anxiety, frustration or intolerance. I’m sure you can come up with something, and it is of course always an automatic/habitual response.
Often after the event, we feel a bit bad about how we handled things and wish we could have done it differently. We usually see with reflection that our response was not the best, and we have a tendency to feel regret, perhaps guilt. We may, and so often do, go on to berate ourselves for not doing things better. If we carry on with this line of approach, we tend to spiral into a position of feeling very bad about ourselves and become overly preoccupied with what’s taken place and probably learn very little from it. This is one way in which we can continue to repeat behaviour that no longer serves us well.
If we are being mindful around these circumstances, even though we may have reacted in our usual way, we can choose at any moment to do things differently. By becoming more aware of the process we go through after the event and most importantly, in a way that is accepting of the situation and of ourselves, we are far more likely to step out of this automatic response and become more able to choose how to respond, the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation.
The more we are able to do this and in the process, regard ourselves with consideration and kindness, the more our self-esteem and wellbeing increases. As our self-acceptance, wellbeing and self-esteem builds, our overall capacity to manage day to day stress and stressful life events, also naturally strengthens.
As the pioneer for introducing mindfulness for stress reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn said:
‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.’
Mindfulness is simple but needs to be experienced to really understand how it can benefit us individually.
There has been a great deal of encouraging research to indicate that mindfulness is beneficial for many conditions. Brain imaging studies have shown some remarkable outcomes. These have revealed how mindfulness practice, even over a short duration, can be detected in areas of the brain that govern physical pain and emotions such as tranquility and happiness.
However, there are also contra indications to be considered. These apply to certain mental health conditions/diagnosis. As said previously, mindfulness is not necessarily for everyone. It is always a good idea to seek out an experienced, practicing mindful teacher. Mindfulness has also been approved by NICE as a treatment of choice and may be offered through the NHS. If necessary, speak to your GP.
If you are interested in finding out more, take a look at our website for workshops we run and also for useful links.
As an introduction, try this very short practice below. It’s a good idea to make a note of how you feel before and after you do it and then to note the differences you experience, before and at the end.
As you go through this practice, try not to control the breath in any way. Let your breath be natural whilst bringing a gentle awareness to it. Allow the breath to be just as it is. If it is long let it be long, if short, let it be short. If the breath is deep let it be so, if it is shallow, let it be so. This is a mindfulness practice in experiencing the moment just as it is, in this case using our breath – which is always available to us – as an example.
If at any time you feel uncomfortable with this, focus on the breath, try using sound instead or the sensations in your body such as pressure points of different parts of your body against surfaces like your chair, or your feet upon the floor. If necessary just stop the practice without feeling that you have failed. Mindfulness is not for everyone, or it may not be the right time. That’s perfectly okay too.
If you would prefer to listen to a similar short mindfulness practice, (and I would suggest this as it is always preferable to have someone talk you through a practice), go to: www.minfulnessforhealth.com. Here you will find an audio download for a two-minute practice called:
The mindfulness practice below is also taken from this resource.
Once you are familiar with this short mindfulness practice, you can do it on a regular basis throughout the day and in this way, begin to live more mindfully.
A Practice for Today:
- Closing your eyes, checking your posture, and bringing attention to the feeling of breathing as you breathe in and breathe out (where do you feel it?)
- Saying silently to yourself:
- “Breathing in, I calm my body / breathing out I smile. . .”
- “Breathing in, I’m breathing a (long or short) in-breath / breathing out, I’m breathing a (long or short) out-breath. . .”
- “Breathing in, I’m noticing some body sensations / breathing out I invite my body and mind to come to rest. . .”
(with gratitude to Thich Nhat Hanh for this practice)