Although Mindfulness practice has been happening in Eastern cultures for many years, it's only recently increased in popularity in the West. Its benefits have been promoted over here by people like Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme.
Despite an awareness of its benefits on mental health, there's still some confusion as to what Mindfulness is. In this post we'll be giving a whistle-stop tour of Mindfulness and some of the different practices you can try.
What Mindfulness is not
It might seem like we're beginning the wrong way round, but we think it's important to start with addressing the confusion that often surrounds Mindfulness. A lot of people mistake Mindfulness as a form of 'relaxation' and it seems as though the two terms are often used inter-changeably.
Whilst feeling relaxed can often be a by-product of practicing Mindfulness, it is not the aim of practicing Mindfulness.
What Mindfulness is
The aim of practicing Mindfulness is to draw our attention to the 'here and now', or, the 'present moment'. All too often, we spend our time thinking about the past (which we cannot change) and/or worrying about the future (which we may have little control over changing).
This quote from Buddha, sums this up perfectly:
"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly".
This reference to worrying about things outside of our control, or things we can't change, seems all-too familiar when we look at the negative thinking patterns which feed into anxiety.
But isn't Mindfulness all 'woo-woo'??
When people think of Mindfulness, many may visualise monks sat high up on mountains, gazing over the landscape, and generally 'being all zen'.
Also, social media often portrays a rather 'stylistic' view of Mindfulness where meditating in a minimally-furnished room, whilst wearing designer yoga pants and a smile reserved only for the likes of Buddha, is deemed as a sure-fire way to reaching enlightenment.
Because of this, Mindfulness might seem rather unachievable to the 'average Joe', but in reality you don't need sparsely kitted-out rooms, yoga pants, or incense sticks to get there*.
*Equally, if you do want to use these things in your Mindfulness practice then go for it. We're not saying that these things are 'bad', but what we're saying is that you can start being mindful now without the need for anything else. It's your mind-set, not the material stuff, that'll help you be more mindful.
We're giving a very brief overview of some different Mindfulness practices here. You can do a Google search which will bring up plenty of results and you can look into them in more detail. If you do pick one or two that you're drawn to, it might be useful to start off with "guided" versions of these, meaning, a recording of someone to guide you through them. There are plenty of these on Youtube 🙂
There are lots of meditation apps out there nowadays, so you can pretty much meditate anywhere (okay maybe not, but you get what we mean).
You'll want to find a quiet place to meditate. You can either sit crossed-legged on the floor (you may want to sit on a cushion), or sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and arms resting where they're most comfortable.
The meditation will usually involve you closing your eyes and focusing on your breath; not trying to do anything particular with it, just observing it. During the course of the meditation, your thoughts will inevitably drift to past or future events. The idea is that as soon as you become aware of your mind drifting, you should bring it back to the present moment. Don't judge yourself for losing focus on the present, just keep bringing your mind back to it.
This is hard to do, but remember that it's Mindfulness practice and in order to get better at it that's exactly what we have to do. Two popular guided meditation apps are Headspace and Calm so free to check them out as they'll take you through the process.
This type of meditation isn't just walking, it's about paying attention to your walking and is therefore done at a much slower pace. If you're worried about other people, you might want to do this in your back garden or pick a spot in the local park which you know is usually quiet.
Some people find this form of meditation easier than the sitting meditation, due to focusing on the bodily sensations that come from the walking. As with the sitting meditation, when you become aware of your mind wandering you bring it back to your breathing and walking.
Before you scoff your [insert favourite food item here], this isn't just about eating. This is about really paying attention to what you're eating; less hamster and more sloth.
People often practice with a small piece of food like a square of chocolate or a raisin. Whatever the item, it's about paying attention to how it looks, smells and feels before even putting it in your mouth. Once you put it in your mouth the idea is not to chew it straight away either, but to be aware of things like the texture and the taste.
We're not suggesting you eat like this all the time, but trying this exercise will help bring an awareness to your eating that you may not have had before. After all, how often do we really pay attention when we're eating?
Other ways to be more mindful whilst eating could include: eating without distractions around you like the television or your mobile phone; paying attention to when you feel full and to stop eating at that point; and only eating when you feel genuinely hungry.
The body scan
The body scan is best done lying down on the floor or on your bed.
The idea of the body scan is to bring attention to how you feel in your body. You can start at the top of your head and move down through to your toes, or vice versa. Spend some time on each part of the body, paying attention to how it feels. Is it tense? Have you got any aches or pains? Whatever you observe, do this without judgment and without a wish to change it. Acknowledge however it feels and move onto the next part of the body.
There's a chance that you may fall asleep during this practice, and that's okay! If you feel yourself nodding off, perhaps move your body slightly just to bring yourself back to the exercise and continue with the body scan.
Some people may not immediately associate yoga with Mindfulness, but we'd say it's a form of Mindfulness as part of the practice is to be mindful of the breath and the feelings in your body as you hold it in various positions.
There are plenty of good yoga videos available on Youtube. You might not want to start with this one, though.
How Mindfulness can help with anxiety
As we've talked about in previous posts, worrying about things which are outside of our control is likely to increase our levels of anxiety.
Mindfulness aims to keep us in the present moment because ultimately that's all we have, and therefore worrying about things which have happened/have yet to happen is a waste of mental energy.
It's worth repeating that Mindfulness is a practice, so it's not about being 'perfect' or getting it right all the time. The key is to bring our minds back to the present moment as soon as we become aware that they've drifted. Don't beat yourself up over your mind drifting; there should be no judgments in Mindfulness practice.
We hope this post has given you a good 'starter for ten' in terms of exploring more about Mindfulness. Have you got any other suggestions of Mindfulness practices that we've not listed here? Let us know in the comments 🙂