You may have heard of the phrase ‘Mindfulness’ but do you actually know what this means and how mindfulness can be brought into your everyday life?
Mindfulness is simply about being mindful of what you’re thinking and deciding where you choose to focus your attention.
Ok so this sounds easy but in practice how does this work?
Everyone makes decisions in life every day, all the time. Most of the time we make decisions as a matter of course without putting much thought into them but sometimes we overthink things and our thought processes and focus become stuck, ruminating (mulling things over). While it is good to prioritise and plan, worrying about the future or dwelling on past events and creating hypothetical scenarios (what ifs), is not a healthy state for the mind or body.
When the brain is stuck in this state of indecision and stress it is firing through the Sympathetic nervous system which has negative effects on other areas of the body too. The Sympathetic nervous system reacts to help the body cope with stress and physical danger operating the ‘fight or flight’ response. However, the brain also uses this mechanism to respond to perceived mental stress and worry. When the body is operating through the Sympathetic nervous system it also raises anxiety and the body’s heart rate but shuts down other functions like digestion and the healing process. Being mindful and using mindfulness techniques re-sets the brain and the nervous system to the normal calming or Parasympathetic state. This in turn regulates the breathing, heart rate and other functions including thought processes.
Taking a mindful approach to everyday thinking and problems allows you to put things into proper perspective and deal with them in the most effective way for you. Being mindful does not mean that you don’t deal with problems but that they are dealt with appropriately at the right time. This will allow you to free your mind of those worrying negative thoughts and concentrate your attention on the here and now.
This all sounds very straightforward and easy but obviously in practice for many of us it’s very difficult to switch off our over analytical minds. There are therefore many different techniques available to train your brain to be mindful such as:
Breathing – Learning to adopt special breathing techniques and focussing on the breath is a very good way of training the brain. (See the breathing technique below)
Meditation – In meditation the mind uses a physical / mental object or sound as its point of focus. (Chocolate meditation is a great one!)
Exercise – Exercises like yoga incorporate meditation and breathing techniques into their regimes. Taking a walk can also be used as a mindful experience. Stop, listen and concentrate on all the different sounds, smells and feelings that you experience while walking and allow yourself to focus solely on your surroundings. This can definitely train your brain to appreciate the here and now.
The aim of all these different techniques is the same and that is to stimulate the concentration and attention areas of the brain allowing you to focus your mind more effectively.
So, to recap, mindfulness is a technique that can be used to focus the mind more effectively. Using mindfulness in your everyday life can help you deal with the stresses and strains better by putting and treating things in the right perspective and allowing yourself time to appreciate and enjoy your life more. Mindfulness is therefore about taking back control of your thoughts and focussing your mind on the here and now rather than the what ifs!
For more information on mindfulness and techniques you could go to:
Why not try the following mindfulness breathing technique to focus your mind:
There is no set time limit for practicing this exercise but try 2 – 3 minutes to start and build up from there.
Sit or lie in a comfortable position. You may choose to close your eyes or keep them open, if you are feeling tired it may be useful to let just a little bit of light in to keep you alert.
Begin by gently moving your attention onto the process of breathing. Notice the sensations of each breath as it happens, whether you focus on the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen, or on the feeling of the breath at the nostrils. Really feel what it is like to breath, just observing it as it happens.
As you engage in this exercise you may find that your mind wanders, caught by thoughts or by noises in the room, or bodily sensations. When you notice that this happens, know that this is okay, and simply notice the distraction but gently bring your attention back to the breath.
Ending the exercise
Take a few moments to yourself, connecting with your experience in the present moment. Expand your awareness from the breath into the space around you, and as you feel comfortable to do so, opening your eyes and bringing the exercise to a close.
Take a few moments to think about what your experience was in this exercise, and how you feel in the present moment.