What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, which seems so simple but can be more difficult than we realise. The practice is focussing on what we are doing right now and not thinking about what happened in the past or what we will be doing in the future. The practice is about grounding yourself and enjoying the here and now, as all we have is this right now.
Our culture is overloaded with information such as social media, technology, the news and we have a tendency to teach our children that the key to life is always striving for something. From working hard at school to going to university or getting a job, then to having a mortgage, getting married, having kids, then work until we get to retirement. When we reach retirement that's when we can enjoy life and relax that's our time to be mindful and enjoy being alive. There are so many of us including myself who think about the future, worry about what may happen, it causes us to be anxious or stressed and think we have to be constantly in control or prepared to handle what is to come. If we are always waiting to reach a certain part of our lives then we will never truly enjoy the journey of getting there. By practicing mindfulness we can focus on what we are doing and enjoy just being.
How does Meditation fit in with Mindfulness?
Both Mindfulness and Meditation are about bringing the mind back to the present. If we look at how the mind works we can notice patterns of past and future thoughts. Meditation allows us to move away from the many thoughts which can grab our attention which takes us away from what we are doing. Meditation put simply, is about sitting quietly, focusing on the breath and returning back to it whenever we get lost in thought. We don't get frustrated with the thoughts but simply re-focus our attention to breathing into the belly and then noticing the belly fall as we breath out. By quieting the mind through meditation, mindfulness naturally occurs, we are just training the mind to return to what we are doing. The more we meditate, the more we find ourselves just being in everyday life, such as reading a book before we go to sleep and not thinking about what we need to do the next day.
When we are not present not only does it affect our mind, but it also has physical effects we may not have even be aware of. For instance, we may start thinking about the future, worrying about an upcoming meeting at work. We then start tensing our shoulders and our breathing becomes strenuous, as we react to thinking about the possibility of having our ideas turned down by management. By practicing Mindfulness and Meditation we can bring our thoughts back to the present moment, steady our breath and ease physical symptoms and possible pain (stress can cause many types of pain e.g headaches, shoulder pain, tension). Meditation and mindfulness create focus, and if we are able to re-adjust how we experience the now, we may even be able to deliver our ideas at that meeting more confidently and calmly.
Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to also notice where our thoughts are coming from and how they can influence how we are feeling. By taking a step back and observing our thoughts, we can see that sometimes seeds have been planted there can influence us to react or feel a certain way towards a situation. By questioning how we respond to certain situations or people, we can see if our responses are reasonable or if our mind is influenced by past experiences. As discussed in The Yoga Sutra “Pain is real…we can only stop it if we stop misunderstanding where it comes from.” From a personal experience, I can get angry or frustrated with those in my life who are perfectionists or who like things a certain way. When I observe my mind these frustrations come from my own anxiety with trying to control everything around me. By looking at how my mind turns in this way, I see the frustrations for what they are, and that they are inside me and not caused by those around me. If we can observe the mind, we can gradually stop it turning this way, by showing compassion with our thoughts to situations and to ourselves, we learn the mind does not always speak the truth and can re-wire how it works.
What are the benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation?
Overall improved well-being
Less anxiety about the future and/or regret about the past
Being fully present in the moment, leading to more joy in the simple things
Better relationships-friends, family, and partners will notice you are more present and engaged with them and be happy in your presence.
Gratitude and contentment for what you have right now, not wanting or needing more.
Observing thoughts rather than reacting to them
Noticing feelings and emotions which make us feel uncomfortable, and noticing how they pass when trying not to control them or push them away.
Who would benefit from Mindfulness?
Anyone can benefit from being more mindful
People dealing with stressful situations e.g loss of loved one, work stress
People who are dealing with a injury or pain
Those who suffer from mental health issues e.g anxiety and depression. Anxiety and Depression can be linked with how we think about the past, present, and future. ( Other factors as well as Biological factors can also play a part here and cannot be overlooked). Mindfulness and Meditation can be incorporated into another method to help ease mental health issues.
"We become whole by stopping how the mind turns."-Pantajali, The Yoga Sutra
How do you practice Mindfulness?
Yoga- yoga helps prepare the body for meditation and we come to learn to be present on our mat.
Walks in nature, noticing the types of birds, trees (the falling of leaves in Autumn), the insects and even walking bare foot in the grass can help ground us.
Whilst eating, enjoying your food and taking time to be fully present. Noticing textures, smell, and taste.
Going for a coffee/tea at your favorite cafe
Spending time with your pet
Drawing/Art journalling, coloring, songwriting, painting anything that allows you to create. It's not about being an artist, its the joy in making, every human is born to create.
Catching up with friends and switching off your phones. Having a conversation in person, rather than through text or social media.
Being a tourist in your own city.
Learning an instrument
Travelling or going on a holiday
Self care-taking a bath, listening or singing to your favorite songs
Having social media free days or not looking at your phone until after you have had lunch.
AND THERE ARE NUMBER OF THINGS WE CAN DO TO BE MORE MINDFUL...
"The mind flies off, and with that comes pain in the body, unhappy thoughts, shaking in the hands and other parts of the body, the breathing falling out of rhythm as it passes in and out."- The Yoga Sutra 1.31
Some further Reading on Mindfulness, Yoga, re-training how we think:
The Art of Mindful Singing-Jeremy Dion How singing can be used to practice mindfulness. For me it further improves my notions of singing and music as a theraputic outlet.
The Happiness Trap- Dr Russ Harris Must read for anyone stuck in that "I'll be happy when..."
Change your Thinking - Sarah Edelman (Great for anyone experiencing anxiety or depression, Sarah uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in her book).
Breathe-The UK magazine Many great articles in here on mindfulness and wellbeing.
The Essential Yoga Sutra Ancient Wisdom for Your Yoga by Christine McNally and Geshe Michael Roach-This is a new transalation of Pantajali's The Yoga Sutra, making a great explanation and guide to these ancient manuscripts. It helps to give light to the benefits of Meditation and Yoga.
How Yoga Works-Geshe Michael Roach- the novel is about how the teachings of Yoga reached Tibet from India thousands of years ago. The novel is another way of interpretating the Yoga Sutra teachings from Pantanjali.