Being mindful can sometimes sound like a challenging thing to do but it can actually be done just by training our attention. Our brains have tendencies to wander off (mine wanders off very often) however practising mindfulness helps us train our attention “muscle” to become mentally fitter. Research shows that when you train your brain to be more mindful, it does actually alter the physical structure of your brain.
People often assume it is the same as meditation but it’s actually not. Meditation is a temporary state of mind mindfulness isn’t. Mindfulness is being aware of any physical sensations, thoughts, smells, sounds or anything you can see that you might not normally pick up on. Meditation is a good building block for mindfulness and you can however incorporate the two which creates mindful meditation.
What is mindfulness then?
To be mindful you are fully in the present moment. You’re not thinking about the past or dreading the future. You are just in the present moment. Say you are having a shower. For example, to be mindful whilst showering (this is where I practise most of my mindfulness) means your attention is just on the smell of your shampoo, the sound of the water going down the drain, the feel of your body wash on your skin or when it gets washed away. You’re just thinking or feeling about what you’re seeing or doing in in that present moment. Everybody has the ability to be mindful as it is just about being in the here and now.
I’d always heard about mindfulness but it wasn’t something I tried or experienced till I was going through therapy. At the end of each session after we had done some trauma work, my counsellor would help bring me back into the present moment. Firstly she would do this by asking me what I could see around the room. My usual answers were clock, chair, computer, table etc. She’d then sometimes ask me what I could hear and/or touch. I’d be able to hear the clock, maybe hear voices outside or a phone ringing. I’d be able to feel the chair that I was sat on or even just touching my legs/arms helped bring me back into the present moment.
So what is meditation?
Meditation is more about gaining a healthier perspective. Meditation doesn’t necessarily require you to turn off your thoughts/feelings but rather to explore them, understand them or observe them without any judgement. Meditation is more like a skill, the more you practise the easier it gets and the more improvements you make. Meditation usually requires you to be more relaxed, in a quiet space with your eyes closed. There are many different types of meditation you can do. There are meditations to help with mental illness’s, confidence, sleep, creativity, physical activity, anger or compassion and they will all vary in durations. You can get some meditations that last a couple of minutes or some that are over 20 minutes long. There are more options to meditation.
Mindful meditation is a mixture of the both. You are basically meditating but more mindfully. So instead of going off and mentally exploring your meditative state, you remain in your meditative state but you are aware of what is flowing around you such as the air entering and exiting your lungs. You’re aware of what thoughts are flowing in your head, of how you’re feeling and what you can sense. It’s paying attention but not latching on to the details. If your mind does happen to wander, you just calmly bring your awareness back and it doesn’t matter how many times your mind wanders, to be honest the more it wanders the better as this will help you practise bringing it back, which will then improve your meditation skills and help you to be more mindful throughout your day, as well as receiving all the benefits from mindfulness and meditation. Win win if you ask me.
How to practise:
There are many different ways to practise mindful meditation but the best way to start of is through breathing. Yes, it is that simple. A breathing technique I use is just a simple, mindful breathing technique.
I start off by making sure I am in a comfortable position either sat or lay down (I prefer to be lay down, I find it easier to relax my whole body) with my eyes closed.
Once comfortable I then take a few deep breaths (I find doing 3 deep breaths helps me to prepare physically and mentally for any meditation) and then focus my attention on my breathing.
I focus on my belly, feeling the sensation of it rising and falling with every breath I take. I’ll do this for X amount of time until thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, sounds or smells begin to occur. Once these begin I just let them flow but if I notice that my attention has wandered off, I switch it back onto my breathing and start again (if you’re attention does happen to wander off, it’s a good idea to try bringing it back at least once more before opening your eyes and finishing your meditation).
Other times I practise mindful meditation is out for a walk. My walks usually end in a destination which is almost always somewhere outside, quiet and comfortable. I have a couple of areas near to where I live that I walk to and will practise some mindful meditation every now and again. I do this by:
Starting off sat on the grass in the sun with my legs crossed, spine straight but shoulders relaxed.
I will then close my eyes and take a few deep breaths.
I switch my focus onto the sensations I can feel when I breathe and when I feel ready I take in what I can sense around me.
This is usually the sounds of the birds (hearing the kangaroos hop off is one of my favourite sounds) or the odd car on the roads below every now and again. The feel of the breeze on my skin or the warmth from the sun.
If my attention wanders, I take notice and bring it back onto my breathing.
You might actually be surprised at how much your senses pick up on whilst practising mindful meditation.
If mindful meditation seems like too much of a challenge for you then you can always try guided mindful meditation. I actually love these as they are perfect for times when I was to destress and/or relax but my mind is running crazy. Having a voice there to help guide you to relaxation and calamity is what works best for me sometimes.
You can find many different meditations via apps, YouTube (or the internet as a whole), Spotify, books, CDs or tapes. Every now and again I like to set aside a hour or so of my day exploring new meditations to try. You’ve gotta find a meditation that works for you. Here are the things I look out for when searching for a meditation:
- If I am searching for a guided meditation, my guides voice (male/female), their accent and their tone of voice will make a huge difference during the meditation. If I don’t like the voice then I’m not going to be able to meditate fully.
- I prefer to do quick meditations during the day and have the longer meditations for the evenings.
- If I am meditating indoors, I prefer to have music playing through my earphones. I’m not overly fussy when it comes to meditation music, but I find some instruments/chords/tunes work with me whilst meditating and some don’t (you can listen to my Yoga&Meditation playlist here if you would like)
If you want to try more mindful meditations, take some time out of your day to either practise or search for a meditation that is suitable for you (I promise, if you’re searching through different meditation music you are guaranteed to feel better after that alone).
See how you go!
Sending my love,