By Meredith Brown, Psychologist, Lakeside Psychology.
These days we are bombarded by products and services that offer a variety of benefits, including ways to help you make more money, increase your happiness and make you look younger. Is mindfulness just another fad, or does it actually have something valuable to offer?
What Is Mindfulness?
Have you ever been having a conversation with a friend and suddenly you realize that you have no idea what they said because your mind had wandered off? Our minds can often go into this ‘automatic pilot’ mode where we can lose touch with the things going on around us and get lost in our worries, plans or memories. Mindfulness is the opposite of being in ‘automatic pilot’. Mindfulness is about purposefully bringing your attention to the present moment in a way that is non-judgmental and accepting.
Mindfulness is not actually a new idea, it has been around for a very long time. Mindfulness has been traced back to different spiritual traditions, however mindfulness can be relevant for people from all walks of life. Jon Kabat Zinh, a well-known international expert in mindfulness, defines mindfulness in the following way: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.”
What Are The Benefits Of Mindfulness?
There is increasing research suggesting that mindfulness can have a range of benefits, and not just for people with mental health problems. Mindfulness can be beneficial in the treatment of depression, anxiety, psychosis, trauma and borderline personality disorder, can also help with improving relationships, stress management, regulating your emotions, and even in managing chronic pain. Mindfulness is also being incorporated into improving performance in the workplace and competition sport, enhancing memory, concentration and creativity and improving the functioning of your immune system.
The Basics of Mindfulness:
- Bringing Your Awareness To The Present Moment –Noticing
The first step to becoming more mindful is to bring your attention to the present moment by noticing the things around you. This might sound unusual as we often have many things going on around us. However, try getting in touch with your five senses (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling) and pay attention to everything you notice for that particular sense. Those new to mindfulness find it helpful to use the body as an ‘anchor’ for the present moment. For example, paying attention to your breath and noticing the rise and fall of your chest or belly, or progressively scanning through your body from the tip of the toes, all the way to the top of your head and noticing any sensation in each area of your body.
- Cultivate An Attitude Of Gentleness, Acceptance and Allowing.
The way in which we bring our attention to the present moment is very important. A core skill of mindfulness is a gentle and non-judgemental attitude towards the process of bringing our attention to the present moment. This is something that takes time and practice to develop. It is easy to become frustrated when our minds go into automatic pilot! When we do notice that we have been taken away from the present moment, we should approach this with a curiosity – what was it that took us away from the present moment? Then gently redirect our attention back to the present moment.
- Gently Acknowledging and Notice Your Thoughts
Our mind is very busy, and it will want to take us away from being in the present moment. This is completely normal and even those with many years of mindfulness practice will get lost in their minds. Our minds are made for thinking, planning and analysing, however, this can take us away from being in the present moment. Of course it is important to be able to plan our lives and problem solve when difficulties arise, however, it can be problematic when we get ‘stuck’ worrying about the future or ruminating about the past – when this happens, we are not in touch with the present moment. Therefore, it is important to be able to notice any thoughts as they come into our mind and then bring your attention back to the present moment. Sometimes you might find yourself doing this many times.
Ideas for Building Mindfulness into Your Day:
- Practice, Practice, Practice
The more you practice mindfulness the easier it will become for you and the more benefits you and those around you will notice. Mindfulness is something that can be incorporated more or less formally. For example, some people find it helpful to allocate a specific time in their day to do a formal mindfulness practice. Other people prefer to adopt a more informal approach and take small pockets of time to practice mindfulness (see point 3) and use situations that arise during the day to practice mindfulness.
- Use Your Body
Your body is one of the best tools you have to bring your attention to the present moment. Bringing your attention to your breath, for example, is a useful starting point for anchoring your attention. As you are going about your day, notice the changes in your body. When you go outside you might notice the warmth of the sun or the wetness of the rain on your face. Stay tuned into your body. Are there are any areas of pain, tension or discomfort in your body? Or can you notice when your body is feeling relaxed and comfortable?
- Take Time Out
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be about long practice sessions. Research has shown that as little as 12 minute a day is enough to cause healthy changes in your brain anatomy. Even a couple of minutes when you are waiting in line or sitting on hold is an opportunity to practice mindfulness. You might like to practice being mindful while you are on public transport or stopped at the traffic lights.
- Mindful Eating
Have you ever been in such a hurry or so hungry that you have gulped your food down and barely even noticed what it tasted like. Eating a snack or meal is a wonderful opportunity to bring mindfulness in your day. Try and pay attention to the different tastes, textures and colours of the food you are eating. When you bring mindfulness to your meals you will find that your meals are more enjoyable and satisfying.
- Mindful Walking
The list of situations we can bring mindfulness to is endless. Walking is another opportunity to bring your attention to the present moment. Notice the quality of the surface you are walking on – is it firm and hard like concrete or is it soft like sand. Bring your attention to your body and notice how your muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments are working to make you walk.
- Bringing Mindfulness into your relationships
By being present with those around us and in conversations, you can improve the quality of your relationships. When talking to someone, focus on their voice and the topic of conversation, and try not to get caught up in thinking about what to say next. This allows us to have more meaningful conversation and more vibrant interactions with others and also enables us to be truly present for the other person involved, which can also be satisfying for them too.
- Mindful Colouring
Mindful colouring books have become very popular recently. You will find a range of these books if you pay a visit to your local bookshop or newsagency. Any activity can be done mindfully or in auto-pilot, and colouring in is no different. A mindful colouring book can be a great tool to get back in touch with the present moment and practice letting go of any thoughts that occur.
So is mindfulness just another fad?
So by now you have probably worked out that mindfulness is unlikely to make you more money or help you look younger. However, mindfulness is not just another fad that will fall out of fashion as quickly as it came into fashion. Mindfulness really does have positive benefits for your life that can be long lasting. But like anything that is worthwhile in life, you have to invest the time and energy. By bringing mindfulness into your life you will find that you will have richer and more meaningful experiences. Mindfulness can help you improve your concentration and encourage your creativity. It can assist you in more effectively managing your relationships and becoming a better communicator. You might find mindfulness assists you in getting a better night’s sleep or enjoying your dinner more. There are a multitude of areas in your life that mindfulness could improve – why not give it a go! If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness or are interested in the use of mindfulness for mental health problems please contact us to discuss your needs further or to book an appointment with one of our psychologists.
Harris, R. (2007). The Happiness Trap: Stop struggling, start living. Exisle Publishing, Wollombi, NSW, Australia.
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Segal, Z. V, Williams, J.MG., Teasdale, J.D. (2013). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression. The Guilford Press, New York.