It’s a busy world and we are always compelled to multitask things. But in the rush of the moment to accomplish tasks, we lose connection with the present moment. We miss out on the most important things. Things like how we are feeling and even simple routine activities like laying the bed for example. A quick question to give you a sense of what is it we are about to discuss. Did you notice whether you had a good night’s sleep this morning or took a minute to admire the beauty of nature?
When you practice mindfulness, you seek primarily to pay attention on the present moment, acknowledging it for what it is without any judgment or prejudice. This practice has been proven scientifically as a key element in reducing stress and staying happy.
Mindfulness can help shift your thoughts away from your usual unhealthy preoccupations toward appreciating the moment. No wonder most religions include some type of prayer or meditation that makes use of this technique.
Mindfulness is at the heart of improving physical and psychological well-being as well as positive changes in health, attitudes, and behaviours. This is why mindfulness has earned a place in mainstream medicine in some parts of the world with much promising involvement in the future. More specifically, Mindfulness can help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.
Mindfulness capability at improving mental health in recent years has seen psychotherapists turn to the practice as an important element in the treatment of a number of problems, including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Living an all-round satisfying life is easier to achieve through practicing mindfulness. It allows you to begin to savour the pleasures in life, prevents haphazard engagement in activities, and gives you the capacity to deal with negative events. More importantly, by focusing on the here and now, you are more able to form deep connections with others.
How does mindfulness work?
In part, mindfulness works by helping people to accept their experiences rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance. More so, mindfulness meditation now combines psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioural therapy to help people gain perspective on irrational, maladaptive, and self-defeating thoughts.
1. Mindfulness Techniques
You can cultivate the habit of mindfulness through mindfulness meditation, a systematic method of focusing your attention. You can do this alone or in groups, it’s a matter of aligning with purpose and staying motivated. There are different ways to practice mindfulness. All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation, that allows the mind to refocus on the present moment to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment.
2. Breathing Technique
The most basic meditation involves sitting quietly and focusing on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. It is important that when thoughts come, you allow them without judgment as you return to your focus on breath or mantra.
3. Body Sensations
Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.” Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
Cope with cravings (for addictive substances or behaviours) and allow them to pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters. Replace the wish for the craving to go away with the certain knowledge that it will subside.
Tips to keep in mind – When getting started on your own it is important to know that it’s hard to achieve concentration. Concentration meditation techniques like those mentioned above, as well as other activities such as tai chi or yoga, can induce the well-known relaxation response, which is very valuable in reducing the body’s response to stress to help you concentrate.
Here’s how it works:
- Go with the flow – Once you successfully establish concentration, begin to observe the flow of inner thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judging them as good or bad.
- Pay attention – You also notice external sensations such as sounds, sights, and touch that make up your moment-to-moment experience. The challenge is not to latch onto a particular idea, emotion, or sensation, or to get caught in thinking about the past or the future. Instead, you watch what comes and goes in your mind and discover which mental habits produce a feeling of well-being or suffering.
- Stay with it – At times, this process may not seem relaxing at all, but over time it provides a key to greater happiness and self-awareness as you become comfortable with a wider and wider range of your experiences.
- Practice acceptance – Above all, mindfulness practice involves accepting whatever arises in your awareness at each moment. It involves being kind and forgiving toward yourself. By practicing accepting your experience during meditation, it becomes easier to accept whatever comes your way during the rest of your day.
- Gently redirect – If your mind wanders into planning, daydreaming, or criticism, notice where it has gone and gently redirect it to sensations in the present.
Two mindfulness exercises you can try on your own are:
1. Basic mindfulness meditation
This exercise teaches basic mindfulness meditation.
- Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
- Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
- Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and your ideas.
- Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
2. Learning to stay in the present
A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. You can choose any task or moment to practice informal mindfulness, whether you are eating, showering, walking, touching a partner, or playing with a child or grandchild. Attending to these points will help:
- Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body
- Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.
- Now breathe out through your mouth
- Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation
- Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation
- Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.
- When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
Finally, Invest in yourself.
The effects of mindfulness meditation tend to be dose-related. The more you do, the more effect it usually has. Most people find that it takes at least 20 minutes for the mind to begin to settle, so this is a reasonable way to start. If you’re ready for a more serious commitment, do 45 minutes of meditation at least six days a week. But you can get started by practicing the techniques described here for shorter periods. And if at first you don’t succeed try again and again. If you miss your intended meditation session, simply start again.