Mindfulness is a buzzword right now, but what does it actually mean to be mindful?
Jon Kabat-Zinn who created an eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) has described mindfulness as “Paying attention, in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non – judgmentally”
Sounds easy right? Well try sitting still for 5 minutes telling yourself to ‘just notice breathing’. Very soon you will realise that your mind has moved away from the breath and has started to plan dinner, or make a list of things to do, that’s if you can even remember where your mind has wondered in the first place!
One of the biggest misconceptions about mindfulness meditation is that once you start, your mind will suddenly turn off and you will be in blissful silence. How shocking it is to realise that your mind just doesn’t stop planning for the future of thinking about the past, all the time missing what is happening in the moment. It is at this point that many people think ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘this meditation stuff is not for me’.
Unfortunately they are missing the point. Meditation is about learning how to tame our crazy wild horse of a brain, learning how to ride the horse and how to reign it in.
Our minds can be pretty strange places at the best of times and at there worst they can feel like a prison where you as both the inmate and the jailer. If you have ever experienced an episode of depression or anxiety this description may feel familiar. A constant marinating in your own thoughts of fear and terror or judgment and self-loathing creates a physiological stress response in the body. We literally want to fight, run away or play dead, but with ourselves! This can get acted out as self-harming behaviours, suicidal thoughts and a numbing down of our senses with substances.
Over time all of these coping strategies become unhealthy and dangerous. Seeking support during these times is vital and one option is mindfulness meditation. This teaches how to activate your bodies’ very own stress release button, our para-sympathetic nervous system, through breathing and movement. You’ll develop stronger concentration through meditation and start to recognise your thoughts, sensations and emotions with more clarity, making them easier to attend to before you get caught or lost in them. You’ll also get an opportunity to learn about your body and how we have evolved to deal with stress.
Did you know that our minds are like velcro to bad experiences and teflon to good experiences. Why? Our ancient cave dwelling cousins needed to remember where danger may be lurking and so retain negative experience gave them (and us) a better chance of survival. Positive experiences are not going to kill us so there is no need to store them. Simple, except it does mean that in today’s world we really need to cultivate positive experiences in our daily lives or else things can start to get, well, depressing. One very simple way to cultivate a positive experience is to STOP!
1. Stop what you are doing
2. Take a few deep breaths and really feel your whole body breathing
3. Observe you senses one at a time, feel the breeze on your skin, the smell of cut grass, the sound of the sea or anything that is around you.
4. Proceed with what you where doing.
This is a very simple exercise you can do anywhere and at any time. The few deep breaths immediately activates our natural stress release, which then helps you to move your attention away from stressful thoughts and into the present moment. We are then open to pleasant sensations, which gives your brain those much needed yummy experiences whilst giving you a rest from stressful thoughts.