Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, with compassion, and open-hearted curiosity . For example bringing the attention constantly back to the feeling of the breath as it passes in and out of the nostrils and chest. Through cultivating mindful awareness, we discover how to live in the present moment rather than brooding about the past (which is over, forever) or worrying about the future ( which is, in any case, unknowable).
An integrative, mind-body based training that enables people to change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences.
- pays attention to thoughts, feelings and body sensations to become directly aware of them, and better able to manage them;
- has deep roots in ancient meditation practices and also draws on recent scientific advances;
- is of potential value to everybody to help find peace in a frantic world.
Neuroscientific studies find…
- changes in those areas of the brain associated with decision-making, attention and empathy in people who regularly practice Mindfulness meditation;
- that meditation increases the area of the brain linked to regulating emotion, and that it improves people’s attention, job performance, productivity and satisfaction;
- that meditation increases blood flow, reduces blood pressure, and protects people at risk of developing hypertension: it also reduces the risk and severity of cardiovascular disease, and the risk of dying from it.
People who have learned mindfulness…
- experience long-lasting physical and psychological stress reduction;
- discover positive changes in well-being;
- are less likely to get stuck in depression and exhaustion, and are better able to control addictive behaviour.
It sounds and is simple, but it is remarkably hard to do. Especially in our modern task-focussed lives we don’t know how to pay wise attention to what we are doing, so we miss whole swathes of our lives, and easily get caught in over-thinking – damaging our well-being and making us depressed and exhausted.
People who have learned mindfulness are less likely to get depressed. They also experience positive changes in well-being.
Find a place where you can sit quietly and undisturbed for a few moments. To begin, you might want to set a timer for about 10 minutes, but after some experience you should not be too concerned about the length of time you spend meditating.
Begin by bringing your attention to the present moment by noticing your breathing. Pay attention to your breath as it enters and then leaves your body. Before long, your mind will begin to wander, pulling you out of the present moment. That’s O.K. Notice your thoughts and feelings as if you are an outside observer watching what’s happening in your brain. Take note, and allow yourself to return gently to your breathing. Sometimes you might feel frustrated or bored. That’s fine–these are just a few more feelings to notice. Your mind might start to plan a future weekend, or worry about a responsibility. Notice where your thoughts are going, and accept what’s happening.
Whenever you are able to, return your concentration to your breathing. Continue this process until your timer rings, or until you are ready to finish.
During the body scan exercise you will pay close attention to physical sensations throughout your body. The goal isn’t to change or relax your body, but instead to notice and become more aware of it. Don’t worry too much about how long you practice, but do move slowly. Begin by paying attention to the sensations in your feet. Notice any sensations such as warmth, coolness, pressure, pain, or a breeze moving over your skin. Slowly move up your body–to your calves, thighs, pelvis, stomach, chest, back, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, neck, and finally your head. Spend some time on each of these body parts, just noticing the sensations. After you travel up your body, begin to move back down, through each body part, until you reach your feet again. Remember: move slowly, and just pay gentle attention.
Choose a food you would like to practice with (preferably something you can hold in your hand without getting messy). Something as simple as a single raisin will work well Move slowly through these steps, taking a moment to focus on each one. Before you pick up your food, notice how it looks on the table in front of you. Notice its colour, how the light reflects from its surface, and its size. Now, pick up the food. Notice the weight, and how the food feels against your fingers. Roll the object between your fingers, or roll it in your hand, and notice its texture. Notice if it’s smooth, rough, slick, soft, firm or if it has any other properties. Hold the food to your nose, and pay attention to its smell. Next, place the food in your mouth, on your tongue, but don’t eat it. Notice how it feels in your mouth. Does the texture feel the same as on your hand? What do you taste? Roll the food around in your mouth and pay attention to the feeling.
Finally, begin to slowly chew your food. Notice how your teeth sink into it, and how the texture is different inside. Pay close attention to the flavour, and how it spreads across your tongue. Notice how your body changes – does your mouth fill with saliva? Does your tongue feel hot or cold?
Continue to chew your food, paying close attention to the many sensations as you finish.
Use this exercise to quickly ground yourself in the present when you only have a moment. The goal is to notice something that you are currently experiencing through each of your senses.
What are 5 things you can see? Look around you and notice 5 things you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe a pattern on a wall, light reflecting from a surface, or a knick-knack in the corner of a room.
What are 4 things you can feel? Maybe you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, your shirt resting on your shoulders, or the temperature on your skin. Pick up an object and notice its texture.
What are 3 things you can hear? Notice all the background sounds you had been filtering out, such as an air-conditioning, birds chirping, or cars on a distant street.
What are 2 things you can smell? Maybe you can smell flowers, coffee, or freshly cut grass. It doesn’t have to be a nice smell either: maybe there’s an overflowing rubbish bin or drain.
What is 1 thing you can taste? Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack if you have one, or simply notice how your mouth tastes. “Taste” the air to see how it feels on your tongue.
The numbers for each sense are only a guideline. Feel free to do more or less of each. Also, try this exercise while doing an activity like washing dishes, listening to music, or going for a walk.