Mindfulness is considered today to be one of the most powerful self-care tools for emotional and physical health. Its origins go back to ancient meditation practices but it is used widely today in health settings, schools, the armed forces and many companies including Google, Apple, AOL, eBay, IBM and Yahoo. I really encourage all my clients to try it.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness simply means being aware of what we are doing while we are doing it. So…aware that we are breathing, walking, driving, making a phone call, cooking a meal and so on. When we have thoughts (and we ALWAYS have thoughts!!!), notice that we have thoughts and come back to awareness of what we are actually doing. When we feel emotions – whether fear, sadness or happiness, just notice the emotion – not trying to deepen it and not trying to push it away – and come back to awareness of what we are doing. The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness and if we are not careful, it’s very easy to live our lives in today’s busy and stressful world on automatic pilot.
Our brains naturally scan our surroundings looking for threats – just like an animal scanning the horizon for a predator. We tend to have what you might call a “negative bias” and it’s designed to protect us from harm. But it can also make us worry needlessly and even not notice when we are feeling happy. And all of us have a mean and tireless “self-critic” who points out in excruciating detail everything that is wrong about us – what we look like, how we perform, what other people think of us. Practicing mindfulness can draw our attention to the self critic and allow us to choose more self-compassionate ways to talk to ourselves.
You could call it “living in the now”
When we practice mindfulness, we gently bring ourselves back into the present moment every time we notice that we have drifted in our minds back to the past or into the future or into our imagination. The word “gently” is really important. Drifting is what minds do, all of the time, so just accept this fact and take your awareness back to the present moment. This doesn’t mean that we can’t plan ahead – but we often get lost in fantasies about things that haven’t yet happened. If it’s something that we are dreading such as having to give a talk or confront a difficult boss, we can replay these fantasies over and over, always the worst case scenario. So we can plan mindfully, being aware that we are planning and by bringing our minds back to what we are doing whenever they drift off.
Some quick ways to get going
Some people think that practising mindfulness has to involve weird chanting or sitting on the floor in a yoga position – chanting and yoga work well for some people but when you’re starting off, it’s a lot more simple:
1. Get in touch with your senses. Notice the temperature of your skin. Notice that you are breathing in and out. Notice background sounds around you. Notice your breathing again.
2. Just notice your breathing. Notice the in-breath and the out-breath. When thoughts come into your mind just return to your breathing. Do not get involved with them. Simply go back to noticing your breathing in and out.
3. Create mindfulness triggers. Pick some everyday things that you do routinely. Decide that whenever you do them you will be mindful and will be aware that you are doing them. Examples are: going up or down stairs, tidying and cleaning, washing up, taking a shower, talking to someone on the phone, drinking a mug of tea
Interested? Have a listen to a couple of my audio recordings!
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For more information about mindfulness, read these articles: Mindfulness and acceptance, mindfulness and compassion, mindfulness and emotions, mindfulness and self help, mindfulness, mindfulness and fibromyalgia.