What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness for beginners, and for everyone else, is a way of becoming more aware of the present moment and not letting your worries about the future or regrets of the past overwhelm you. It’s about accepting thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. An article from Psychology Today defines mindfulness as:
“the experience of living your life in a way that recognises we are not our thoughts and emotions, but rather the awareness of these thoughts and emotions.”
In Western culture, we have been raised on a diet of instant gratification and fulfillment without the commitment of effort. Many of the stresses of modern life are self-created. We exhaust ourselves by worrying about what might happen, or work to improve what has happened.
We are so used to being distracted by our smartphones or constantly checking Facebook that we forget to notice all the beauty in the world around us. It’s time to make time for ourselves and focus on what is right in front of us. Mindfulness is not about forgetting your worries; it’s about focusing on the present moment in order to create peace within yourself and in your life.
Mindfulness has been an important and powerful practice in many cultures and religions for thousands of years. It was introduced to the Western world through the Buddhist tradition, but it is about so much more than just Buddhism. Mindfulness can be used in conjunction with practices from any faith to help improve our spiritual life, work life, and emotional well-being.
It’s about stopping your busy life so you can start to listen to what is going on inside. Because inside is where all the answers lie. It’s like the big secret – you already have all the answers to whatever it is you are searching for, you just have to stop and listen.
I work in a hospital leading a cardiology team and mindfulness is something I do often throughout my busy day. It has really helped me on my journey to create the life I want.
What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
It is understandable to think that mindfulness and meditation are one and the same. After all, both practices can help you reduce stress, but their differences lie in how they go about achieving this goal. Meditation is a practice used for centuries during which you sit calmly and focus on nothing but your breathing, while mindfulness practices include elements such as yoga, breathing, meditation, seated contemplation, and just being aware when doing normal daily tasks, which is what makes it so practical and user friendly.
- Mindfulness is simply a method of mental training – it is not a religion.
- You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor unless you want to. You can sit on a chair, but you can also bring mindfulness awareness to whatever you are doing – walking to work, on a bus, doing the ironing, washing the dishes or even cleaning your teeth.
- Mindfulness practice does not take a lot of time, although some patience and persistence are required. Many people find that meditation liberates them from the pressures of time so they have more time to spend on other things.
- Meditation is not complicated or about success or failure. Even if it feels difficult, the more you do it, the more awareness you will gain about yourself.
- It will not deaden your mind or prevent you from striving toward important goals. It won’t trick you into seeing the world like Pollyanna. Mindfulness is about seeing the world with greater clarity so you can make wiser and more considered courses of action to change the things that need to be changed. It helps cultivate a deep awareness of yourself that allows you to access your goals.
The benefits of mindfulness
I was introduced to mindfulness when I was in a bad place and took up yoga about ten years ago. As soon as I closed my eyes to listen to the guided visualisation, I felt tension being released from my body. It felt safe and I experienced many of the following benefits:
Studies show that those who are mindful have reduced stress levels and are happier. They also experience:
- better decision makers
- remain calm in challenging situations
- help alleviate anxiety and depression, PTSD, chronic pain and chronic illnesses
- lowers blood pressure
- improves sleep
- improves relationships
Increases emotional intelligence
Studies have shown that there are significant benefits to raising your emotional intelligence for both you and those around you. It simply involved making time every morning do some breathing meditation exercises, allowing the body & mind to be a calm state to start the day and give rise to:
- Increase the ability to identify, understand, use and manage emotions
- Increase empathy
- Build self-confident leaders
- Build resilience
- Increase happiness
- Increase optimism
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that lowered stress and decreased anxiety resulted in an increase in productivity. The study found that 47% of respondents reported increased productivity when they practiced mindfulness, creating:
- increased focus & attention
- Increased level of awareness
- improved memory
- enhanced creativity and out of the box thinking
As people devote themselves to mindfulness, they find themselves happier and more content with their lives because they are able to understand themselves better. This self-understanding creates a sense of security and allows them to better handle their thoughts without dwelling on them for long periods of time. It boosts self-awareness and increases mental clarity.
When we are mindful, we become less judgmental about what is happening in our lives. Additionally, mindfulness helps people physically by allowing them to heal faster from physical injuries and illness while also optimising their health.
Types of mindfulness
Breath mindfulness includes meditating on your breath. You could count your breaths or notice it as it enters and leaves the body. For examples go to Breath exercises.
I love this one as it’s really simple, quick and accessible to everyone, anytime and I use it many times throughout the day.
Body mindfulness entails focusing on the present moment by being aware of your posture, your body parts and the sensations you feel.
Another really accessible type of mindfulness. Close your eyes and do a body scan to see where you are holding tension in your body. Focus on the tension, and as you breathe into it, notice how the sensations change.
Focusing on your thoughts and senses of taste, sight, hearing, touch, smell, and also includes your surroundings.
This type of mindfulness can feel quite decadent to explore. Becoming aware of the simple things we take for granted but can make our lives so much more enriched and sensual, such as becoming aware of the luscious taste of a sweet strawberry on the tongue, the feeling on the teeth as you chew it and the inside of your mouth covered in the sweet strawberry juices before you swallow it. Then noticing the after-taste and feeling inside your mouth.
Walking meditation is a form of mindfulness that can be practiced by anyone. It is done by simply observing where the soles of your feet touch the ground while walking, how the ground is feeling, and the air that is being in your surroundings. Keeping the process nice and slow.
My first experience of a walking meditation surprised me by how much emotion it stirred up. I have done many more since and they always leave me feeling grounded and centred.
Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice of physical movements and postures, traditionally associated with Hinduism. Fundamentally, Yoga is a form of exercise that strengthens the body’s muscles, lengthens the spine, stretches the limbs and deepens breathing and allows energy to flow.
When you start out with yoga you may feel a bit awkward as you try and master the poses and make sure you are doing everything right. What is important, is both the beginning of the class where you do some mindfulness and relaxation at the end which often involves a visualisation.
Awareness is created when you stop and listen to what is going on inside before and after movement and notice if there has been any changes.
Tips for getting started with a mindfulness routine
The most difficult step is starting. Think about how you might fit mindfulness into your daily routine:
- Mindfully eating breakfast in the morning, noticing with your senses the smell of the food, what it looks like, savouring every mouthful, away from your phone and not trying to multi task.
- Meditating before bedtime or when you awaken. There are an abundance of Apps to download and try. My favourite is Insite Timer. Other common ones are Calm and Headspace and most have a free element to them. It is personal choice, so experiment.
- Reading for 10 minutes during lunch.
- Brushing your teeth in the morning, slowly and with consideration.
- Showering, feeling the water on your skin, over your head and noticing how this makes your body feel.
- Join a mindfulness or meditation group.
- Join a beginners yoga class.
Mindfulness is an important form of self-care. Don’t be disheartened when you feel you are getting no where with it. It is a skill that can be learned, but takes time to master. It’s no different than going to the gym to improve your physical body and starting a routine you have never done before. It takes time for your body to learn it and adapt. It’s the same with mindfulness.
- Start small, by finding just 5 minutes every day for a month to practice mindfulness.
- Increase the time slowly – after a month of 5 minutes, increase to 10 minutes a day.
- Commit to every day, so it becomes a habit.
- Focus the mind only on the present moment and resist being caught up in thoughts about the past or future.
Anyone can learn mindfulness and with all the benefits of mindfulness it’s surely worth giving it a try? And please, do let me know how you get on. I’d love to know!
If you want to learn more about mindfulness go to my mindfulness for beginners course. I hope you found this article helpful and informative.
I work with energy medicine systems to calm and heal the body. In my one to one consultations, I educate and give tools and exercises to empower you to discover and become the ultimate you. Get in touch for a free 15 minute consultation.