Over the past year or so, there has been a lot of buzz about a technique known as mindfulness. It seems that no matter where you look recently, people are talking about it.
So where has it come from?
The origins of mindfulness are actually in Buddhism, and have existed for hundreds of years. But mindfulness as many know it now was modernised by Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme (MBSR) to aid the chronically ill.
If you”d like to know more about Mindfulness and how it can help with your mental health condition, take a read of the info and try our Mindfulness example audio.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
These days, we take little time to appreciate the world around us. Everyone is rushing around and we are in an ever pressurised society. Mindfulness is about being in the present moment and becoming focused on what is around you.
It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts, without noticing what is actually happening. Mindfulness acts as an ‘anchor’ to bring you into reality and stop your mind racing. It is simply the practice of noticing what really is real and true. In mindfulness, there is no view to change anything, or to perceive anything as positive or negative. Everything is neutral, and it is about accepting things as they are. If we can see the current moment for what it truly is, then we can interpret the world truly.
The ‘anchor’s is an important part of mindfulness practice, as it helps to maintain your focus. An anchor can be anything, from an object which you hold in your hand, to the voice of an audio guided mindfulness exercise. Your breathing is a good ‘anchor’ to use, as you always have it with you wherever you go! Another great example is your body. There are ‘body scan’ exercises which guide you through your body to notice any sensations or tensions you may be feeling. And it’s okay if your mind wanders off from your ‘anchor’ or your exercise. Once you have noticed, just gradually bring your attention back to what you were trying to focus on.
In the initial stages, it can easy to get a little frustrated, as you probably feel that your mind is wandering an awful lot. This is because it’s a bit like an untrained puppy, and your thoughts keep dashing off as they haven’t been ‘trained’ yet. Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis will result in the ‘mindfulness muscle’ becoming stronger, and it becoming more of a natural way for your mind to work. You will notice you go longer and longer between incidences of your mind wandering off each time.
HOW DOES IT ACTUALLY HELP?
The best part of mindfulness is that you can’t ‘do it wrong’. This is because you are simply in a state of ‘being’, rather than trying to change anything or analyse anything. People practice mindfulness in different ways, and there really are no set guidelines on how to do it.
When we simply stop to notice the world around us, it can make us appreciate it more and notice the little things. We can observe new things which we have never noticed and realise how we have taken some things for granted, such as fresh air and blue skies.
As we begin to practice mindfulness and notice when our mind is drifting from the ‘anchor’, the brain starts to recognise when our thoughts are taking over or going down a negative path. Mindfulness can help to break the cycle of negative thoughts, recurrent depressive episodes and anxiety. If we focus on what is in front of us and around us, we spend less time focusing on the ‘what if’s?’. Studies have shown that mindfulness affects how the brain works. It increases activity in the pre-frontal cortex – the area of the brain associated with positive emotions. With the recent surge in people using mindfulness, it is very likely that more positive studies will be published in the coming years.
Mindfulness is not just encouraged for those suffering from a mental health problem. It is also a recommended treatment for chronic pain and drug addiction. Many women practice it during pregnancy to aid relaxation and reduce stress. A small number of work places and companies have introduced mindfulness as common practice, and noted considerable positive side effects including better concentration levels and reduced stress associated with the workplace. Recently in the news, a pilot has been introduced to integrate mindfulness into primary schools. The studies are yet to be published, however, what has been reported so far has been positive.
MINDFULNESS IN PRACTICE
A key part of mindfulness is to be very aware of your senses. You can be mindful in any situation – take eating a chocolate bar as an example.
You may usually chomp through your chocolate whilst thinking about what a busy day you have the next day, whilst worrying about problems at home, or whilst texting at the same time. To be mindful, the chocolate should be the true focus.
Look at the wrapper and notice it’s appearance – what colours is it? What font is the lettering? What does the writing say? Feel the wrapper in your fingers – what material is it? Is it a smooth or bumpy texture? When you open it, listen to the rustling of the wrapper in your hands – is it a quiet or a loud noise?
Once the chocolate is open, notice any ridges or patterns on it. Has it got any other colours on it? Notice what the chocolate smells like, and breathe the smell in to enjoy it. Does it remind you of any other memories?
Place a square of chocolate in your mouth, and let it sit on your tongue. There is no need to rush, let the chocolate melt. What kinds of taste are there? Are there any extra ingredients you can taste? Feel the chocolate with your tongue as it melts and the texture changes. When you begin to chew, feel the sensation of the chocolate being crushed between your teeth. Enjoy the feel as the chocolate slips down your throat.
Appreciate how fortunate we are to have food.
IF YOU THOUGHT MINDFULNESS WAS SOMETHING ELSE…
Mindfulness is interpreted differently by different people, therefore it is important to know that mindfulness can be appreciated in multiple ways. These include:
Through meditation – whereby the participant pays attention to their breathing, posture and any sensations in their body, bringing their attention back to being mindful when they realise their mind has wandered (as it does naturally).
Through yoga – this includes movement through a series of postures and positions, whilst focusing on the breathing.
Through Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – this brings together the ideology behind CBT to break negative thinking patterns, and mindfulness in terms of breathing exercises.
Though Mindful Eating – used by some practitioners to help those suffering from an eating disorder.