These days we hear the word “mindfulness” regularly in conversation and in the media. It originates from Eastern meditation practices but is currently increasingly being combined with Western psychological practices. The reason for this is that it’s potency as an important component towards ensuring mental health such as relief from anxiety, depression or aggression is being realized more and more. There are even physical benefits such as regulating blood pressure. For these reasons, I suspect that “mindfulness” is a topic that will become increasingly relevant in every societal arena, from parenting, education to the workplace.
Mindfulness can present an evasive concept and the aim of this blog entry will be to start “unpacking” the concept and provide an initial practical exercise or two to start making it a part of your everyday life. Part 2 will expand on the benefits of mindful living and provide you with more practical exercises to try out. Part 3 will present evidence of how mindfulness can even play an extremely valuable in relieving stress in children. This has the potential to even elevate their school performance.
Put simply, mindfulness is about developing our awareness. It uses mind-body – based training, called mindfulness-based practices, to enable us to deliberately bring to our attention everyday activities so that we can deliberately focus and tune into our thoughts, emotions, moods, senses and bodily experiences at any given moment in the present. It is an opportunity to self-regulate.
Mindfulness is about what is happening right now within ourselves and the past and the future don’t matter momentarily. This focus on the present moment is a key aspect of mindfulness, for it is only by focusing on the present with our full attention that we can pause and give ourselves space to respond to thoughts, feelings, and events in our lives.
A very good place to start is by focusing on your breathing. You can do this anywhere, sitting or standing as long as you are in an erect position. Only three minutes of this can be particularly helpful during times of stress exhaustion, anger, sadness and where your thoughts and emotions are spiraling out of control. It is a kind of emergency meditation which “cools your inner emotional temperature.”
Regulate your breathing by taking a deep breath in. Draw in as much air as you can and feel the air filling up your body as deeply as you can right from your toes, expanding into your abdomen to the top of your head. Do this slowly at the count of four. If you can, keep your eyes closed and imagine breathing in soothing energy which will smooth over stressful sensations.
Hold your breath for four slow counts and then release your breath at the count of four. Imagine breathing out stress and tension from the top of your head to through your body right to your toes. If you do this for a few minutes your heart rate will slow down and you will feel more relaxed. Try to make a habit of it.
Another exercise is to eat with more focus. We often eat without awareness. Eating mindfully involves deliberately slowing down to savour the taste, smell and texture of the food. Try to have some meals in silence, really focusing on the sensations of eating. This involves attending only to eating (no TV, radio or reading!) and the movements and flavours involved in eating. As a start, you can apply this to showering, brushing your teeth and every other activity you engage in.
In “Coming to our Senses” Jon Kabat – Zinn wrote:
“Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention:
In the present moment, and
Non judgementally to things as they are.”