You have probably heard of mindfulness before and as it has become more popular in recent years, everyone seems to be talking about it. Based on ancient relaxation techniques, mindfulness can reduce stress, improve mental health and help people change the way they view the world. It involves breathing techniques and can help you relax when things feel a little bit too much.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment. This means instead of worrying about the future or fretting over the past, you bring your attention to what you are doing and how you are feeling right now. The idea is that through paying attention to the present moment, your thoughts and your feelings, you can see things more clearly, learn more about yourself and deal with challenging situations. It can help you deal with negative thoughts and experiences by allowing you to notice how you are truly feeling without getting caught up in your emotions. For example, when you feel down you simply notice that you feel down but do not start getting wrapped up about why/who/what/where and any other worries. It is all about reconnecting with our minds, bodies and senses and allowing us to have more control over our thoughts, emotions and reactions.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
There has been a lot of research into mindfulness and it has been found to have some really amazing benefits for those who practice it! Here are some of the great ways mindfulness can help you by improving your ability to manage your thoughts, emotions and reactions.
Mindfulness allows you to become more aware of when you start feeling stressed. It allows you to focus and sort through the worries that are causing anxiety. When you start to feel stressed, mindfulness allows you to focus on what is causing you to worry and gives you the chance to view the situation more clearly.
In some cases, mindfulness is used as a treatment for mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety. A big part of experiencing depression for example, is related to the negative thoughts and feelings you have about yourself, others and the world. Mindfulness gives you chance to notice whether what you are thinking is true or whether you are being influenced by past negative experiences.
Self-compassion is about treating yourself kindly and understanding yourself better and goes hand in hand with mindfulness. It is the idea that kindness, not criticism, is the best type of motivation. Instead of being nasty to yourself when you feel down, you should be your own cheerleader, acknowledging your feelings and thoughts mindfully. If you focus on how you are truly feeling and treat yourself how you would a friend if they were feeling down, you can deal with your emotions instead of ignoring them or letting them take over your thoughts.
Everyone goes through times where they feel bad about themselves. A lot of the time, low self-esteem is due to the automatic thoughts telling us we are not good enough. Through mindfulness you can notice your negative self-talk and grow your resilience when these thoughts hold you back. When you feel negative self-talk creep up on you, instead of thinking ‘I am not good enough’ think ‘I am having the thought that I am not good enough’. This mindfulness technique can help distance you from your negative thoughts and improve your view of yourself.
Mindfulness allows you to understand yourself better. By gaining insight into your own thoughts you can notice anything that triggers you to feel bad and identify your own feelings. By recognising your emotions, you have a better chance at controlling them and your reactions to situations. This can also help you relate and understand others more too.
How do you practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be tricky when you first start practicing it. Here are some tips and exercises that can bring mindfulness to your everyday life and hopefully change your world!
Breathing is an easy way to practice focusing on the present. By paying attention to your breath you connect with the present moment and get a break from the constant whizzing thoughts and images in your mind. This can be really relaxing when you’re stressed or anxious!
Here is a breathing exercise that can help you practice mindfulness:
Choose a comfortable upright chair and keep your head high and spine stretched. Close your eyes.
Allow your body to relax and mind to become calm whilst staying aware (this can be tricky, try not to get too agitated if you find it difficult – it comes with practice!)
Focus on your breath. Pay attention to the way the air feels in your nose, the expanding of your chest when you inhale and how it feels when you’re exhaling. Try not to change your breathing too much when you pay attention to it. Allow yourself to naturally breath and concentrate your mind on the sensations you feel. It can also help to count your breaths if you want!
Choose one sensation in your body where you notice your breath the most – this could be your nose, your stomach rising and falling or anything else you’re experiencing!
If your mind wanders whilst you are trying to focus on your breathing, gently bring it back to your breath. This is normal – practice self-compassion and don’t be too harsh on yourself if your mind keeps going elsewhere!
After about 5 minutes, or however long you want, open your eyes again and bring your attention back to the room.
If you do this frequently it should get easier and you may be able to do it for longer! If you are really strapped for time, simply taking one deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth can bring your focus back to the moment.
Mindful Body Scan
Another way of practicing mindfulness is with a body scan. This increases your physical self-awareness. You attend each body part and notice the sensations, tensions and emotions there. By doing this, you can connect your mind and body together in the present.
Find a comfortable position – this can be sitting or lying down.
Try to stay alert – despite the calm feeling mindfulness creates keeping the brain aware is important (but don’t judge yourself if you do nod off!)
Focus your awareness on your feet first, noticing every toe on each foot and any sensations you are feeling there. As you breath in, try imagining the breath travelling through your body and into your feet. When you breathe out, imagine your breath leaving your feet and picture a soothing sensation. Do this with both feet.
Slowly move your attention and repeat step 3 for your calves, knees, thighs and right the way up to your stomach, chest and eventually your head until you have focused on every part of your body.
There are loads of resources available to help you practice mindfulness. Remember, everyone is different so some resources might work for others but not for you. Your individuality is what makes you amazing so keep searching and trying new things until you find the one that works for you!
Colouring books, craft kits and other activity books centring around mindfulness can be found online or in shops on the high street (like the Works which is amazing for stuff like this!). There are also monthly mindfulness magazines that have lots of cool, interesting and fun ways to practice mindfulness. Here are a few examples:
Mindfulness Colouring Activity Book
Mindfulness Puzzle Book
Books on Mindfulness
There are also books that explain more about what mindfulness is, its origins, beneifts and how to practice it.
Three of my favourites include:
Practical Mindfulness: A step-by-step guide by Ken A. Verni, Psy. D.
A colourful, interesting guide to everything mindfulness! It mentions its history, how to practice it and how you can bring mindfulness to your everyday life.
Wherever you go, there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
A great book written by a leading expert on mindfulness and researcher into how it helps with mental health problems.
The Little Book of Mindfulness by Patrizia Collard
This is a really handy, cute book with mindfulness practices that only take 10 minutes. Really useful to put in your bag and use if you are always on the go!
There are a few websites with online and real-life courses and information to help you master mindfulness.
Tim Desmond/The Institute for Applied Compassion – https://www.timdesmond.net/
Tim Desmond has lots of experience with mindfulness, especially how it relates to self-compassion. He offers an online course and has also published books on self-compassion and mindfulness too! His website has some great info on about all of this!
Mindful – https://www.mindful.org/
Loads of great resources and information for applying mindfulness to life.
Guided Mindfulness Meditations
These can be useful in helping you maintain your attention when practicing mindfulness. There are loads of guided mindfulness meditations on podcasts, Youtube or you might be able to find local groups that meet up to practice together.
The Mindful Podcast
This podcast gives you information about mindfulness itself and provides guided meditations to help you practice
The Psychology Podcast
This is a more general podcast but there are some wonderful interviews with experts on Mindfulness and applying it to everyday life.
Guided Meditations Podcast
This podcast is full of great guided meditations that range from 5 minutes to 30 minutes!
Be Mindful – https://bemindful.co.uk/
Run by the Mental Health Foundation, this website provides information on local mindfulness courses and teachers near you so you can go to real life guided meditations!
Written by Lydia Hextell, Blossom Leader