Mindfulness is a skill which can help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and anger. It also has physical benefits; helping to lower blood pressure and cope with pain.
Mindfulness is choosing to focus on the present moment. It helps train our minds to focus on what we choose.
The simplest mindfulness is mindfulness of the breath.
Sit comfortably, but not slouching.
Focus on your breathing. Don’t try to change the rate.
Notice the sensations as the air is drawn in through your nose.
Notice the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe.
You may notice other sensations in your body:
The pressure of the chair under your bottom,
the floor under your feet.
You may be feeling tense: notice what you feel in your body:
Maybe your jaw is clenched, your heart is beating faster, there’s a fluttering in your stomach etc.
You will also notice your mind wandering – that’s normal, it’s what minds do.
Thoughts like: ‘this is pointless’, ‘what’s this supposed to do?’
Notice these as thoughts and bring your attention back to your breathing.
Mindfulness is NOT about suppressing your thoughts, but noticing them as thoughts, letting them go and focussing on what you choose.
Put words to the thoughts and feelings.
Notice them as events in your mind and body.
There are many other mindfulness exercises. For example, being mindful of an object such as a feather.
Look at it, notice its shape and colour. Does it shine?
Run your fingers over it. Is it rough or smooth?
Bring it up to your nose. Does it smell?
(if appropriate) taste it. Is it sweet or bitter etc?
Try to use all your senses as you bring a childlike curiosity to the object, as if you’ve never seen it before.
You can’t get it wrong!
When I was nursing, I used to lead mindfulness exercises. Often patients commented that they felt calm and relaxed after an exercise. Others would comment that they had got it wrong because they didn’t feel relaxed or their minds wandered.
Minds wander, that’s what they do – it’s good that you have noticed – just gently bring your focus back to the exercise.
The aim of mindfulness is not to feel relaxed (although that may happen) – the aim of the exercises is to practise being mindful!
Practice, practice, practice!
That’s the key to being mindful, learning the piano, typing or any other skill you want to acquire.
Practice using mindfulness in everyday activities – have a shower mindfully (notice the feel of the water on your body, the smell of the shower gel, the warmth of your body),
eat mindfully (look at the food, notice its smell as you bring it to your mouth, notice the saliva building in your mouth, notice the texture of the food as you chew),
do the washing-up mindfully etc.etc.
This is just a brief introduction. There are many websites that give exercises and suggestions. There are also books with CDs that give guided mindfulness (eg ‘Mindfulness for Dummies’ – unfortunate title, it’s far from dumb). Many find it helpful to be led through a mindfulness exercise.
Do persevere. It seems odd at first – many patients complained that it seemed pointless (they probably joined the classes for something to do), but after a few sessions, it ‘clicked’ and they started to notice benefits. So stick with it.
If you have any questions, comments about what you find helpful, please share your experience by pressing the comments link.