Mindfulness – what is it? And how can we use it in everyday life?

As ‘The Mindful Blogger’ I have found it fitting to write my first blog post about mindfulness; what it is all about, the benefits of mindfulness and how mindfulness techniques can be used to relieve us from our everyday chaotic lives.

What is mindfulness?

Imagine you’re driving your car from one location to the next and during this journey you forget where you have been driving and all of a sudden your attention comes back to driving. This is also known as being on ‘automatic pilot’. Your thoughts may be elsewhere, other than the task at hand. Well, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, to focus your attention on the task at hand or the ‘here and now’.

Mindfulness is said to have originated 2,600 years ago from the Eastern part of the world. Specifically, Buddha asked how he could free himself “from the pain of the world?” – A question that many of us ask throughout our lives. Buddha found mindfulness to be the answer. But don’t worry you don’t have to be spiritual or a Buddhist to practice mindfulness.

But why should I try mindfulness?

Reduce suffering

Overtime mindfulness can reduce unhelpful and negative automatic thinking habits, pain, tension and stress. Mindfulness has been shown to physically change the structure of our brains and can increase happiness and general well-being. Similarly, mindfulness teaches us to pay attention to our thoughts, but in a non-judgemental way. So mindfulness can actually foster self-care and teaches us to be kinder to ourselves.

Increase control

As mindfulness is a ‘grounding’ technique (enables us to focus on the present), we are less occupied with the past or the future. There is evidence to suggest that mindfulness can enable us to notice signs of stress and anxiety. We can therefore stop letting our minds control us.

Experience reality as it is.

“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment.” – Professor Mark Williams (former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre).

Mindfulness has also been integrated into many evidence based psychological therapies;

  • Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which is an evidence based programme to reduce stress.
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (Marsha M. Linehan), a treatment for individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, suicidal ideation and self-harm.
  • Also, the NIC has also recommended mindfulness as a way to prevent a relapse of depression in people who have had more than three depressive episodes.

Core Mindfulness Techniques

Observing – Simply observe thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Observe the whole experience.

Describing – Notice the fine details of what you’re observing. What are the facts?

Participating – Consider the whole experience with full care and attention. Let go of self-consciousness.

Non-Judgementally – Accepting stance towards your experience, no attempt to evaluate experiences as “good, bad, right or wrong”. This takes time and is a challenging aspect of mindfulness – be kind to yourself.

One-Mindfully – Do one thing at a time. It is normal to become distracted from time to time. Acknowledge that this has happened and gently nudge yourself to your observing experience.

How to practice mindfulness

There are many mindfulness practices, but here is just an example;

Mindful breathing

  • Ensure you’re seated comfortably (you could even lay down), in a quiet and comfortable room. Your eyes can be closed or remain open.
  • First, use the muscles of your abdomen and chest to empty all of the air out of your lungs, then allow them to fill naturally. Notice what it feels like to breath like this.
  • After these few breaths, allow your breathing to return to normal, allow your breathing to find its own rhythm. Let your breathing be as deep or shallow.
  • Notice the rise and fall of your shoulders, the expansion and contraction of your abdomen and the sensation of the air entering and leaving through your nose or mouth
  • Continue to notice how it feels to breathe. Notice the gaps between breaths.
  • Do this for as long as you wish.

Remember, if you practice mindfulness there is no right or wrong way to do so, be non-judgmental in your practice and enjoy reconnecting with the here and now!

Resources

Doyle, O. (2014). Mindfulness Plain & Simple: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace. Orion Publishing Group, London.

Linehan, M. M. (2015). Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.

The Psychology of Mindfulness, Digested

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

http://oxfordmindfulness.org/

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