HOW TO PRACTISE MINDFULNESS
We’ve all heard about mindfulness but what is it and how can we get some in our lives? By mindfulness teacher Georgia James.
Mindfulness is simply the act of bringing awareness to the present moment in a kind, non-judgemental way. It can be practiced at any moment throughout the day – or within formal meditation practice, known as mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is based on mindful awareness of the present moment, usually with a particular focus on one or more aspects of experience, such as the breath, the body, sounds or thoughts. It is not, as many people think, about clearing our minds or stopping our thoughts but rather about noticing our thoughts as they arise and gently letting them go.
The idea is that by regularly practicing mindfulness meditation, even just for just a few minutes a day, we become naturally more mindful in everyday life. So when we’re in a stressful situation, it’s often the thoughts we bring to the situation and the projections we put over the top of it – ‘what if this happens’ ‘what will this person think’ etc – that make us feel stressed, rather than the situation itself.
If we’ve been practising mindfulness, we’re better able to notice the thoughts and step back from them and think ‘That’s just a thought’. We focus on what’s actually happening. It stops us making problems out of problems. So if you’re a perpetual over-thinker who gets overwhelmed and exhausted, mindfulness enables you to stay focussed on what is actually happening, the actual problem, and when those other thoughts and worries come, you see them for what they are and have more choice about how you respond to the stress.
‘Check-in’ with a 3-step breathing space
The three-step breathing space is a short, simple meditation that can be done anywhere in as little time as you have available. It can be done throughout the day at specific times, or points, such as when you wake up, when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, etc. Once a habit, it can be called upon as a powerful tool when needed (eg. when feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed). It offers a way to step out from inside the drama of your life and help you see things from a clearer, wider perspective.
Step 1: Awareness/’checking in’
Beginning by adjusting your posture: your feet flat on the floor, hands resting on your lap, spine upright and the crown of your head pointing towards the ceiling; closing your eyes if that feels comfortable to you or lowering your gaze. Now, taking a few moments to check in with yourself. What is here for you right now? Bringing awareness to any thoughts, feelings, body sensations present.
This step enables you to step out of autopilot mode and turn towards experience
Step 2: Gathering the mind
Gathering the focus of your attention and bringing it to the sensations of the breath in the belly, noticing the abdomen walls expand on the in-breath and relax on the out-breath. Not trying to control the breath in any way, simply paying attention to the changing sensations in the body for the full duration of each in-breath and each out-breath.
Step 3: Expanding awareness
Expanding the awareness beyond the breath to take in the whole body and the space the body takes up. Being open to each and every sensation from the top of the head to the soles of the feet, holding the whole body in spacious awareness. We’re not trying to hunt for sensations – simply noticing what’s here for you right now. Then, expanding the attention beyond the body out into the room, opening the eyes when you’re ready; and seeing if it’s possible to take this sense of spaciousness and open awareness out into the rest of your day.
How to be more mindful (starting today)…
One way we can train our minds to spend more time in the present moment and less time ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, is to set an intention to bring mindful awareness to one activity a day.
Pay attention to one of these daily activities every day for the next week: Eating lunch, brushing your teeth, showering, drinking tea, coffee or a soft drink.
Notice, for example, the sensations of the toothbrush against your teeth and gums, the shower water against your skin, the taste sensations of your cup of tea, or the colours and texture of the laundry.
Where is your mind? Does it want to wander off? When it does, where does it go? Remember it’s natural for your mind to wander; your only job is to notice where it has been and bring it back to the sensations of your task (with kindness!).
Download an app
There are hundreds of mindfulness apps out there. Headspace is one of the most popular and most accessible, offering packages aimed at everything from stress and anxiety to creativity and focus. It also includes meditation packages for kids as well as motivational videos and tools for tracking your progress.
Mindfulness teacher Georgia James is studying for a Masters and training to teach mindfulness-based courses at Bangor University’s Centre for Mindfulness Research & Practice. Georgia specialises in teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Finding Peace in a Frantic World, which is a shorter, accessible version of MBCT particularly suited to fast-paced businesses.