It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.
Some may say that the essence of being mindful is also about being compassionate, both to ourselves as well as others. If we can learn compassion we begin to learn about relating, for in essence we are always in relationship to someone or something. As you read this, you are in relationship to the words, and also to the chair on which you are sitting. At other times you are in relationship to what you feel, and think, and sometimes these can be painful. In other moments you are in relationship to people, and they may be your family, friends, colleagues or even strangers. For it is the quality of these relationships that determines the quality of our lives.
Our ability to touch love and kindness and be touched by them lies buried below our own fears and hurts, below our own greed and our hatred, below our desperate clinging to the illusion that we are separate and alone.
Jon Kabat –Zinn
What is mindfulness?
There are several definitions for mindfulness but perhaps the easiest one to understand is that it means paying attention or noticing in a specific way. Jon Kabat-Zinn the founder of Mindfulness describes it :-
“Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment.”
I have often suggested that the past affects the present but it doesn’t have to dictate our future. I am fond of saying:
“You only have this moment, and this moment is now”.
Let it slip away and it is gone forever. We are all guilty of wishing our lives away but to look back and realise we have waited our whole lives for something only to look back and see that we have wasted each day wishing it away. Instead it is about ‘being’ in every day. Whether that is mowing the lawn or hanging out the washing. And if we can be fully present whilst doing so, fully aware, we create instead meaning to what we do, we become mindful, noticing things in a way that perhaps we have never done before.
How mindfulness can help
Mindfulness becomes a tool for us to learn to tolerate our feelings and not just push them away, so that even if the feelings are painful or difficult, we can learn to accept them by being fully mindful, and we learn that we can in fact manage the feelings better by allowing ourselves to fully experience them.
Physically and emotionally pain is interesting, because most of us just want it gone. But by fully experiencing the pain, by becoming more aware, we can experience a release of tension. In other words by allowing pain to be really felt, allows it to take on a different hue. And that is an interesting way to look at it, to actually give the pain a colour and see how over time it changes.
Mindfulness is very similar in certain aspects as to how I teach the Alexander Technique. By noticing things you have a chance to see, feel and think about them differently. Not to try to change them but instead to be fully aware. Something strange then happens; by noticing – changes happen. It is as if by noticing something and thinking about it, something begins to shift.
How you can be mindful
This is an ongoing process, it is something that we need to practice and the more we practice the more we notice. It is about being open and curious, to train your mind, to be still or to quieten your thoughts when you want to, as if you could change channels or turn up or down the volume.
You must remember your mind and your thoughts are not always your friend. On occasions your mind gives advice which is not always sound but if we can learn to catch the thoughts and the advice our mind gives we can begin to have a choice, so that it is not about changing our thoughts but changing our relationship to our thoughts. To make things conscious is to have a choice as to whether you want to change or not. It is getting people out of their heads and back into their lives. Our thoughts can distract us from our life, and so you can never be too mindful. We do not want to distract ourselves from our thoughts but instead to notice. Avoiding things does not work in the long run. But by facing them and truly noticing we have an opportunity to create change.
The story below from a training course I was on recently perfectly illustrates this.
A man was told he would be put to death in the morning; he was so distressed that it stopped him from sleeping.
He then remembered to be mindful and was then able to sleep.
He did not know at that moment what would happen in the morning, but at that moment in time, he was alive.
So be the player in your own life; inch yourself into a different mindset and allow yourself to fully experience your life in the here and now.
Formal mindfulness practices
As well as practising mindfulness in daily life, it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice.
Several practices can help create a new awareness of body sensations, thoughts and feelings. They include:
- meditation – participants sit silently and pay attention to the sensations of breathing or other regions of the body, bringing the attention back whenever the mind wanders
- yoga – participants often move through a series of postures that stretch and flex the body, with emphasis on awareness of the breath
- tai-chi – participants perform a series of slow movements, with emphasis on awareness of breathing
- Alexander technique – a taught life-long self-help method concerned with quality of movement. The Technique works by helping you to identify and prevent the harmful postural habits that may be the cause of stress and pain. You will learn to release tension and rediscover balance of mind and body.
Mindfulness is something that needs practicing, I can help people begin to understand the process and show how it can be experienced to allow a sense of peace and contentment.