“Mindfulness works, in part, by helping people to accept their experiences—including painful emotions—rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance.” Mindfulness has been shown to improve physical health, mental health and overall wellbeing but it does not get rid of stress, challenges, or difficulties. By being more aware of the uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that arise with stress, we have greater choice in how to respond to them in the moment. Mindfulness does this by altering the way our brains work. A consistent mindfulness practice creates new pathways to the parts of the brain responsible for focus and decision making and deactivates parts of the brain that respond with feelings of fear, stress and anxiety. In short, we learn to respond rather than react.
One way to practice mindfulness, and probably the most commonly suggested way, is through mindfulness meditation. In this practice you find a comfortable spot to sit or lay. Focus on one aspect of your breathing. Maybe it’s the sound, the way it feels as it enters and leaves your nose or mouth, or the well your belly rises and falls with each breathe. You can then begin to widen your focus to include other sensations, feelings and thoughts. Observe each sensation, feeling or thought without judgement and then let it go. When you notice yourself getting caught up following a thought, feeling or sensation, gently bring your awareness back to your breath.
While mindfulness mediation is extremely beneficial, it’s not a perfect fit for everyone. There are other ways to practice mindfulness that might be a better fit for your lifestyle.
Practical mindfulness involves working mindfulness into the activities you already do in a day. In this practice, only focus on one activity at a time by engaging as many senses as you can. If you are cooking, notice the texture of the food as you prepare it. Take time to smell each ingredient. Do they smell different with your eyes closed? Notice the sound or chopping veggies or the sizzle of the pan. Feel the cold water as you wash your hands, and the heat from the oven as you place your meal inside. Taste your sauce, notice the intricate differences as you add to it.
Acceptance is Key
Whichever form of mindfulness you practice, leave your judgements at the door. You will get caught up in your thoughts, feelings and sensations – this will never change. The goal is not to stop getting caught up, but rather to increase your ability to bring your focus back to the present. So, when you notice yourself getting caught up, don’t beat yourself up. Simply, notice the sticky thought/feeling/sensation and bring your focus back to the present.
Mindfulness as a Lifestyle
Mindfulness is not simply a state to practice during meditation. We can (and should) practice mindfulness in every moment – and this realisation can be incredibly powerful. We get to control how we experience the worlds challenges, pains and joys.
The benefits of mindfulness increase with the amount of time you practice. However, when you first start to practice mindfulness it can be overwhelming. We recommend starting with 5 minutes and working yourself up to 20 minutes as day for six days a week. Remember to be gentle with yourself – this is a learning process!