This is the first article in a series I am offering on ways to practice mindfulness. In these articles I will explain what mindfulness is and is not, and explore some of the myths around mindfulness. We shall look at the effects of practicing mindfulness every day in our lives in basic easy ways as well as ways that might require more commitment and challenge.
Here I explain why mindfulness is so hugely popular and successful and how you can cultivate your own mindfulness practice, dipping in and dipping out, just as it suits you, experimenting with what works for you and tailoring your own personal programme that benefits your life and brings you more health, happiness and well being, as well as improving your relationships.
Understanding Mindfulness-What’s all the fuss?
“Mindfulness is all the latest buzz”, a client of mine commented the other day. “And seriously, I’ve tried meditation, and it just doesn’t work, for me I mean. Maybe for others but not me and I hate all this body talk anyway. I’m just no good at this body stuff, I’m more of a head person myself.”
I had to agree, at least with the idea that mindfulness is becoming like the latest fad. Mindfulness has become a like a feeding frenzy. All those studies, which are coming out almost weekly, have shown that mindfulness changes particular regions of interest in the brain, the hippocampus, the cerebellum, the insular cortex and posterior cingulate; but we need to know that as exciting as this is, in terms of neuroplasticity and what it means for our health and well being, mindfulness has been around for a very long time. It has a history in many various traditions all over the world, ranging in religions and cultures of great diversity. Mindfulness is not new, it is only that we now know with complete certainty that it works! We know from brain scanning and the latest research and science that mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety and disease. It is associated with lengthening the telomeres in our brain which are associated with ageing. Quite literally mindfulness can extend the quality and quantity of our lives.
The question is, can we crystallise this into a common path, a journey if you like that all of us can be engaged in, no matter who or where we come from?
Mindfulness quite simply is present moment awareness in the senses, being engaged and noticing (non-judgementally) whatever it is you are experiencing. It is commonly believed that mindfulness is only about positive things but that is a myth. Mindfulness allows us to welcome all of our experience, not just the things we judge as good. We find after practicing mindfulness for a time, we can welcome and open to the experience of negative emotions rather than fighting them, reacting to or resisting them which just adds stress and anxiety, confusion and tiredness to our life’s journey. Our mature development as human beings requires us to be able to hold our own experience, and even when there’s trauma, big and small, to be able to pay attention on purpose to what is going on for us at any given moment. Mindfulness is the perfect vehicle to facilitate this!
Starting a Meditation Practice
There are so many ways in which people can develop skills in being more mindful. One of the most beneficial is to have a daily meditation practice. If this feels too onerous to you, maybe you could contemplate starting small. Even 5 minutes a day can have an effect! Begin by thinking about when you are most likely to feel like meditation. For some, it’s early morning, for others it’s after lunch or in the evening. Pick what works for you.
What is Your Motivation
Sense into what you are hoping to achieve by meditation and allow yourself to fully feel the aspiration for your meditation. Rather then coming from a place of should, duty and obligation, see if you can connect with the positive feelings of being more centered, calm, able to concentrate more or relax more. Let yourself know and anchor to what is your own personal intention for meditation. Is it to reduce stress? To improve your brain health? To stay calmer in relationships? To be a more mindful parent?
This then allows you to honour your own commitment to yourself and to more easily come back when you notice you are not keeping up the practice. A foundational quality of mindfulness is that we hold our own experience without judgement. So just like we notice our thoughts then come back to the space of awareness meditation without judgement so too when we forget to practice we gently bring ourselves back.
Pick a place that is quiet and where you won’t be disturbed. Set a timer for yourself so that you can sit and meditate without worrying about when to finish and make it for a duration to start with that feels doable. You might even like to keep a meditation journal, recording for yourself any insights or effects you notice as well as reminding yourself to show up for yourself in your new habit. This could be your own accountability journal. We all have habits so we may as well create good ones! Think of cultivating a meditation practice as developing a new muscle or building a new habit. It won’t always feel easy and you won’t always feel like it, but knowing you have decided ahead of time to build this habit allows you to just do it!
In the next article I will explain how to meditate. Please feel free to leave your comments and questions.