Date of the last update: 10.08.2023
Mindfulness is a state of mental awareness where you are fully engaged with the present moment, rather than being preoccupied with past regrets or future worries, without attaching yourself to it. Techniques of meditation have been used throughout history to train the mind in how to focus itself and achieve clarity through the practice of mindfulness. It has been used across many different cultures and spiritual traditions to improve emotional stability or well-being. Mindfulness involves ‘mindful awareness’, where you deliberately pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, body, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness acknowledges these experiences as they arise, observing them with a neutral mindset, and teaches you how to process your feelings in the present moment without becoming overpowered by them – simply put, it is about accepting what is going on around you and learning how to let your feelings towards those experiences go. It creates a non-judgemental and non-reactive response to your experiences. Non-judgmental awareness of your surroundings enables you to gain deeper insights to your thoughts, emotions, and instinctive behaviour patterns. Neutrally observing these thought processes and behaviours prevents you from getting overly caught up in instinctive thoughts or emotional reactions. This provides a deeper self understanding and can lead to better impulse control. Living in the present and taking a moment to reflect on it before acting teaches the self to not to succumb to its immediate reactive instincts.
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Moment-to-moment awareness or ‘mindful awareness’ is cultivated through meditation. Mindfulness meditation practices involve individuals creating an anchor to focus their attention on. This could be bodily sensations, a specific object in the environment, breath, or anything else that anchors the mind to the present moment and brings you back to it when your mind starts to wander. During mediation of all kinds, it is natural for your mind to wander and throughout mediation, it is important to note what you become distracted by. This allows you to learn more about your habits and what your mind gravitates towards, which can give you a deeper insight into the current stresses in your life that distract you from the present moment. Here are some guided examples on how to practise meditation:
- One example of mindful meditation is a body scan: this is where you are guided through each part of your body to search for any bodily discomfort, aches, or any other noticeable sensations in the body. These sensations could be anything from pain to feelings of hunger, or how your body feels as you tense and relax muscles. Discomfort in the body can be a sign of stress or anxiety. Connecting with the body can make you aware of stress that you may not have originally noticed in your day to day life.
Find a quiet and comfortable environment to sit or lie down. Make sure this is somewhere you feel peaceful and safe. Close your eyes in whatever position you are most comfortable in and take a moment to clear your mind. Try to relax and do not actively engage with thoughts or feelings that are causing you stress. Now, bring your attention to your body. Start by focusing your attention on your feet. Actively pay attention to the sensation you feel when your feet come into contact with the surfaces around you. Do you have any feelings of tension or discomfort in your feet? Notice any pain, tension, or discomfort and accept those feelings without judgement. Whenever you notice a negative sensation, tense the muscles in that area, then relax them as a way to let go of those feelings and move on to the next area of your body. Gradually, move your focus through your ankles to your lower legs. Do you feel any tension there? Perhaps you feel some warmth, coldness, or a tingling sensation. Ask yourself why you might be feeling these particular sensations. Slowly move up through your knees, thighs, and hips. Continue through your back and chest. Keep isolating each part of your body until you have identified what each part of your body is feeling, considered why your body is feeling that way, and let go of those feelings.
- Another mindful meditation practice is focused attention: this is where the anchor is a focused attention on breath – in particular, the rise and fall of the chest as you breathe. Whenever your mind is distracted, you deliberately focus on the rise and fall of the chest as you breathe, directing all attention to how that sensation feels in the current moment.
Find a comfortable and peaceful environment where you feel safe. Close your eyes and start to take deep, slow breaths. Breathe in, hold that breath for 3 seconds, then breathe out. Repeat this until you feel a sense of calm and have a clear mind. As you breathe, focus on the rise and fall of your chest to help you connect with the present moment. Once you have established a calm mindset, breathe in whatever way feels most comfortable to you, but continue to focus on your breath. During this time, your mind may start to wander. This is completely natural but when this happens, gently guide your attention back to the rise and fall of your breath. Remember not to judge yourself for how your mind wanders. Acknowledge all the thoughts and feelings that pass through your mind without getting caught up with them. Use each time you draw your attention back to your breath as a way to strengthen your focus. When your mind is completely clear, take a few moments to be present in that moment. Then, once you feel ready, open your eyes.
- A third technique is resting awareness: this is where rather than creating an anchor to focus on, you let the mind rest and go blank. Thoughts may enter your head after this, but instead of engaging with them, you allow them to enter and pass through your mind without distracting you. This particular type of mediation is about accepting the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that enter your mind. However, it is about allowing them to pass through your mind while maintaining a neutral, non-reactive attitude towards them. It is like observing what you feel from a third person perspective, without becoming overly reactive to them or judging them.
Over time, meditation helps people become more familiar with the nature of their minds and allows individuals to build the skill of mindfulness, so that they can then apply it to everyday life. Our mind will wander throughout the day. It will naturally become distracted by our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. However, the practice of meditation allows us to develop our mindful awareness so that when we realise our minds have become distracted, we can pull them back into the present moment.
Perhaps let the phone ring for a while before picking it up. This small action deliberately pays attention to the noises around you and allows you to engage in the present moment by listening to the phone ringing. You can then use that moment to think about how that sound makes you feel or what that phone call may lead to before picking it up. By not giving into the immediate instinct to pick up the phone, you practise self control. This is then likely to continue through the call when you answer it and you are less likely to be guided by immediate reactive instincts to agree, disagree, become overwhelmed with emotion, etc.
The regular practice of mindfulness has many health benefits – both mental, emotional, and physical. Meditation as a way to practise mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. It improves overall emotional well-being and enhances life satisfaction. Additionally, it has been shown to improve your attention span and improve your ability to concentrate; this is because the skill of concentration is developed through repeatedly focusing on an anchor to prevent distracting thoughts. People who practise mindfulness also often report that they have been able to improve their personal relationships and have developed a greater empathy response towards those around them. Clearing the mind of thoughts through resting awareness increases self-awareness of your behaviour and your thought patterns. It also increases your ability to regulate your emotions and create inner self-calm despite them.