Mindfulness meditation is an ancient Eastern practice which remains highly beneficial to our lives today. It’s a simplistic idea and does not clash with any beliefs or traditions; rather, it’s a way of being. Mindfulness meditation is an ability for moment-to-moment awareness and paying attention in a particular way in the present moment without judgement and with intent.
Mindfulness meditation can take a lot of practise, even though it’s relatively simple, because it’s doing the exact opposite of what our minds normally do. It’s about teaching ourselves to be:
- Aware: of our body, mind and the environment around us
- Present: in the ‘now’ and focused, giving us options of where we place our attention
- Embodiment: bringing our mind and body together
- Acceptance: of who you are and others around you
Practising mindfulness entails noticing your breath (the physical sensations), your senses (sights, sounds, smells, touch and tastes), your thoughts and emotions and your experience in the moment. It can be simply noticing what we do not normally notice because we are too busy, with our heads focusing on the past or future. We are always thinking what we should have done or what will happen next, rather than simply ‘being’ in the present.
Be in the Present Moment
Practising mindfulness meditation can help focus your attention. We find that we can be not present in our everyday lives and are often on auto pilot, such as going up stairs and forgetting what you went up for, or driving from A to B and not remembering the journey. Or even, as I once did, putting the milk in the cooker! In this dream-like state we are reactive instead of responsive, and our fuse can be lit by circumstances around us. Thoughts, sensations and feelings or emotions can be triggered and old patterns of behaviour can come into play, making negative situations or moods even worse.
We are aware of our thoughts, sensations and feelings, however, we are less reactive and more able to respond in a healthier way. Mindfulness gives us more options and freedom and stops us from using old patterns of behaviour which could be destructive, to manage or cope with how we feel.
When we are reactive, we believe thoughts are real and engage with them, which can be distressing – especially when we start to catastrophize. We can be judgemental and base our reality on something that is, in fact, just an opinion. We can get stuck paying attention to the past and become depressed and / or thinking about the future and become anxious, We can feel distressed and overwhelmed, struggle and get caught up in pain. We can behave impulsively or, at the opposite end of the scale, use avoidance.
Be Responsive not Reactive
When we are responsive, however, we become non-judging and accepting. When we are aware, we are awake and able to let go. We can feel calmness, peace and focus, paying attention with clear alertness. We are able to base things on facts and disengage from negative thoughts; reducing distress and pain and being able to consider options with clarity.
Mindfulness is great for our physical health and mental well-being. It can benefit our immune system and help us deal with chronic pain, as well as enable us to heal and recover more effectively. Mindfulness helps people with depression, anxiety-related issues and stress, as practising can help alleviate levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It can also bring increased self-awareness, acceptance of emotions and empathy; people who practice mindfulness find it leads to greater fulfilment and gratitude in life.
Mindfulness can be formal and informal; we can create a meditative space or incorporate it into everyday life, such as washing the dishes, showering, eating, walking or even having a well-earned cup of tea. This could be just the time you need to take out on a daily basis to find breathing space. It is so simplistic that if you do it each day, it starts to integrate into your being and everyday life, creating awareness and allowing you to be in the present daily.
Mindfulness-focused exercises, including mindful breathing, have the primary goal of allowing calm, non-judging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. Try sitting on a straight-backed chair, eyes closed and focus on your breathing, imagining you have a balloon in your tummy which inflates every time you breathe in and deflates every time you breathe out. Observe the sensations in your abdomen as it rises with the in-breath and falls with the out-breath.
Don’t worry if thoughts pop into your mind; simply observe them and bring your
attention back to your breath. It’s also ok to notice sounds, feelings and emotions.
You don’t have to act on them or analyse them in any way; just observe them and let
You might also find it useful to download an app such as Calm or Headspace, which have simple techniques to incorporate into your everyday routine. As mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn said:
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Love, Lynette x
Psychotherapist and counsellor Lynette Evans works as The Listening Helper with individual clients and staff teams to reduce anxiety and depression and increase happiness and wellbeing. A registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), Lynette combines a variety of approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and person-centred.