How to practise mindfulness
Mindfulness – it’s all about meditating and hippy stuff, right?
Well, only if you want it to be.
There are indeed many meditations, and being in, and enjoying nature is definitely mindful.
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally
Mindfulness means deliberately attending to and becoming more aware of our experience of our thoughts, feelings and body sensations.
By developing a new relationship with the conditions we find ourselves in, we can begin to respond more creatively, we are more able to respond to life’s experiences in ways that help us to remain steady. The moment you begin to consciously think about what you’re thinking, begin to notice how you’re behaving and begin to pay attention to your feelings, you can become aware of and change your emotional state.
Rather than a cool, detached awareness, mindfulness is a warm, gentle and kind attention to our experience. Alongside mindfulness, kindness and self-compassion have been shown to help us to reduce our stress levels.
Mindfulness encompasses a variety of activities, including formal meditation practices as well as simple daily activities such as eating and walking.
Some simple practices:
1. Notice any physical symptoms and respond to them
Put a hand over a tight chest for example, leaving it there to feel the warmth.
The moment you notice how you are feeling and start to think about your physical needs and respond to them, you are being fully present, mindful, and focused on the present in your immediate vicinity.
This is mindfulness.
2. Mindful activities: five senses grounding exercise
Look around you and name:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you can feel or are in contact with
- 2 things you can smell
- what can you taste?
3. Mindful activities: using an individual sense – auditory
Take a minute to explore your soundscape. If you can, close your eyes - what sounds can you hear close to you, and then further away? Are the sounds pleasing, do they come and go? Can you picture what is making the sound?
4. Mindful walking
Mindful walking is a sensory approach to walking that embeds us totally in the present, in our surroundings.
As nice as it is to walk with our music in our ears, this exercise works best when you don’t wear your headphones.
As you walk, first look all around (don’t forget to look up) and think about the shape and size and texture of all that you can see. What can you notice that you may not have seen before?
Now open your ears to the soundscape, what can you hear nearby? What are the sounds from far away? Birdsong, vehicles, your own breath, children playing?
What can you smell? Fresh air? Blossom? Cars? Breathe deeply.
What can you touch – the plants and trees you pass? The walls or fences that line your path? How does the ground feel beneath your feet?
How are you feeling as you set off, and as you walk? Acknowledge these feelings with no judgment.
Awareness of your breath can be important to bring your attention to the present
Square breathing – imagine a square in front of you or find a square you can see in your surroundings. Imagine you are tracing the edges with your finger, breath in for one side, out for the next, in for one and out for the last.
7/11 breathing – breathe in for the count of 7 and out for the count of 11.
You can find many longer practices by doing a simple internet search (free mindfulness meditations). Some of the most popular are body scan, mountain meditation and affectionate breathing.
Make sure you find a place to practise where you will be undisturbed and comfortable.
An important point to remember is that the aim of mindful meditation is not to prevent the mind from wandering off – which it will do repeatedly – but to get into the habit of learning to check in with our current experience in a non-judgemental way. We can then use this learning within our daily life activities. This will enable us to live more mindfully.
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