What is Mindfulness?

“When you are present in this moment, you break the continuity of your story, of past and future.Then true intelligence arises, and also love.” – Eckhart Tolle

What is it?

Mindfulness is being present to your experience of the immediate. Think about when you are totally absorbed in something - at the cinema, or engaged in some task. Your mind is not full of thoughts or stories - you are fully experiencing whatever it is. Think about why this usually feels so good - because you have dropped the stories in your head to be present. We can bring this focus to the rest of our lives - we can eat our lunch mindfully, engage with others mindfully, go for a walk mindfully, do the shopping mindfully.

When we can get out of our heads, we can be open to our feelings, sensations - we can realise that we are more than our thoughts and the stories we tell ourselves. Mindful is checking in with ourselves - our breathing, physical sensations, thinking, feeling. Being mindful doesn't mean you are void of thoughts. It means the stream of thoughts is interrupted. Observing our thoughts is a different experience to 'following' our thoughts or getting caught up in them, and creating stories in our head.

Practicing Mindfulness has many benefits - it can lower anxiety and stress, lift low moods, inspire creativity, gratitude and appreciation, and it can boost the immune system. It can also help with trauma recovery - as we can use its techniques to ground us in moments of being triggered, and it can bring us back to reality when we have been hijacked by invasive images or memories.

How long does it take?

You can take ten or twenty or sixty minutes to practice mindfulness or you can take as little ten seconds, three minutes. If you are in the middle of a stressful work day and someone has just said something to do which triggers anxiety, or you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, pause, close your eyes, take five mindful breaths, and see how it impacts on you. You may notice that you feel better able to 'cope', less stressed and better able to engage and focus on your tasks.

How do I do it?

There are various ways we can practice Mindfulness.

One is by bringing your awareness to your breath and noticing your experience of breathing. Observe your breath. See if you can track it as you inhale and exhale. Give all of your attention to it. The key to mindfulness is 'noticing'. Breathe in to the count of 3 and out for the count of 4. Usually we 'forget' about our breath, don't notice it. After taking a mindful breath, many clients have said that it was the first 'breath' they took in the whole day.

Another technique is to check in with your body. You can do this literally anywhere, no matter what is going on (maybe not when we are driving or cycling, though). It can help to 'ground' us when we are feeling a little frazzled, panicky, overwhelmed, or not feeling 'solid'. Bring all of your attention to your feet. Notice how they feel in their shoes, their weight, any sensations. Then travel upwards slowly until you have reached the top of your head. If you are time limited, checking in with the feet and lower body can help to ground us. Or you can scan around the body, stopping to focus on any places that call out for some attention. It is okay to have thoughts - just notice them without following them. If you find yourself getting caught up in thoughts, gently bring your focus back to your body. Give your thoughts a job to do - say to yourself, 'I am focusing on my stomach'. Even just checking in with your posture - how am I sitting? How does it feel to sit like this? Does my body want to move? Follow your body and follow your instinct and notice your experience.

Another technique is to do a task mindfully. This is a handy one for those 'mindless' tasks when our minds are rushing to whatever is next. Washing your face, brushing your teeth, making tea or coffee, walking to the shop. My favourite one is to eat a small 'Freddo' chocolate bar mindfully - one bite feels like I have eaten the entire thing, and more.

Start with holding the bar (or cup of tea / crisp bag /sandwich etc) in your hand and give all of your attention to drinking in the sights and sensations of its packaging, texture, colours etc. Notice its weight. Really notice everything about it. Then open it, savouring the feeling of the wrapper on your skin, the sound of the crackling and rustling. Hold it up and smell the chocolate and drink its its gorgeous sent. Finally take a small bite and notice how it feels in your mouth, how it feels as it melts, how it feels against your tongue and teeth. Keep noticing until it is all gone, or mindfully chew it away. Notice swallowing it, and then notice how your mouth feels now that it is empty.

For more information about practicing Mindfulness or to book a session, email hello@daringgreatlytherapy.com

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© 2017 by Michael O'Dwyer