Written by: Jenny Smith
Mindfulness is the name given to a particular form of meditation which has gained enormous popularity within the mainstream over the last ten years.
What is Mindfulness?
The approach of Mindfulness involves keeping your attention in the present moment, moment by moment without striving for things to be different or judging what you are currently experiencing. Most people feel this experience naturally when they are doing something that they enjoy such as sport, cookery or being in nature. It is an increased feeling of connection with the self where there is less room for distracting thoughts from the mind, it can be described as a sense of ‘enough-ness’ or ‘complete-ness’. The challenge comes at times when things are not feeling so enjoyable, you are stuck in traffic on your way to an important meeting, you are tying to get the kids out of door to school or you bang into a cupboard when you are rushing around the house. At times like these it is likely that you are anywhere but in the present! Your mind is ahead at the meeting, imnagining everyone there except you, or at the school gates seeing the head watch you deliver your children late AGAIN!! When things are not going the way ‘we want’ it can feel very difficult to accept the situation and surrender to what is.
What people discover however, is that through doing a mindfulness practice that it is not the situation itself that causes stress and anxiety, instead it is the thoughts and subsequent feelings that create tension, both in the mind and the body. Through learning to be more in the moment rather than in the future or the past, there is a settling down of anxious energy and a more grounded feeling of being in the present with what is.
Notice your body
A formal mindfulness practice involves regularly taking time to do either sitting meditation where you sit still and bring your focus back to your breathing or your body sensations, or some form of moving meditation such as tai chi or yoga. Informal mindfulness is where you bring your attention to whatever you are doing in any one moment, for example as you read this you would notice how your body feels as you stand or sit, what your eyes are focused on, how your breathing is as opposed to skimming through this article whilst thinking about something else.
Mindfulness has been linked increased self-esteem, increased ability to relax, reduction in anxiety, increased clarity and ability to think rationally and increase in general well-being. Anyone of any age can benefit from a course, you do not have to subscribe to any particular belief system and you do not have to have any experience of meditation. Mindfulness is also finding its way into some mainstream schooling. The Mindfulness in Schools Project was set up by three secondary school teachers who had personally felt the benefits of such a practice . They have created a tailor made course for teachers to participate on that will then enable them to offer simple teachings to their students. The course includes modules such as ‘recognising worry’, ‘mindful movement’ and ‘befriending the difficult’ and is described as a good mixture of theory and practical and teachers who have taken it have reported in overall calming down in class situations and students being able to put the techniques into practice during times of increased pressure such as exams.
The main person who has introduced it to the western world is Jon Kabat-Zinn who has developed something called the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course which is an eight week evening or daytime course now run regularly in most cities and towns in the UK. The course covers a thorough introduction to different mindfulness techniques including sitting meditation, mindful movement and body scanning. It also teaches participants about signs of stress, how to recognise them and how to counteract them. If you are unable for any reason to get out to a course it is also possible to do one online through Be Mindful .In certain areas it is now seen as an alternative therapy in its own right with some GP’s starting to prescribe low cost access to a course of meditation in place of anti-depressants in certain circumstances.
Having someone in a family who is practicing some form of mindfulness can benefit the whole family as one persons increased feeling of calm is infectious to all. It can be a great thing to do with your kids altogether and can be fun to experiment with mindful eating or mindfully playing with pets! Approach it lightly, find simple ways of bringing it into your family and enjoy the benefits!