During my workshops and 1:1 sessions I often state that even practising small amounts of mindfulness can have a beneficial effect on our health & wellbeing. We know this is true from various pieces of research which have taken place. Therefore, think what a positive effect regular, consistent practice could have on you! The good news is it doesn’t have to be for a long period of time, it can be just five minutes a day, as long as it takes place frequently. You can tag your practice onto an event each day as a reminder; when you’re in the shower perhaps?
By looking at some of the key elements of mindfulness practice we can start to pull out the consequent benefits to ‘our-selves.’ Some of these key elements are as follows:
Ability to be aware of self:
Mindfulness helps us to connect with who we truly are. We are sometimes so busy being a wife, husband, mother, father, daughter, colleague, friend, carer and so on, that we lose sight of our true self. Mindfulness helps us to reconnect with our true nature, with our-self. That’s not to say it is necessarily an easy task. Sometimes we may ‘hide’ in our roles to avoid knowing ourselves better. I’ll discuss this further in a future blog.
Paying attention to thoughts and feelings:
The more we think about our feelings the more we become able to recognise patterns in our behaviours and emotions. When we recognise patterns we can start to better control our responses to situations by pre-empting our actions before they occur. If you notice that you always respond in a certain manner to certain situations then you can spot that behaviour before it occurs and choose how to respond.
Regular mindfulness practice helps us to foster an attitude of being non-judgemental. This is both to others and ourselves. It helps us to be more accepting of the way others act, even if we don’t agree with those actions. The next key element, ‘being gentle’ fits in here too, as during mindfulness practice we are reminded to be ‘gentle’ with ourselves, especially if we notice our minds have wandered from the activity. When we start to become gentle with ourselves we start to become so towards others which in turn supports us in acquiring a non-judgemental nature.
Moving away from thoughts (Monkey mind) towards our sensations and physical experiences & experiencing the ‘now’:
I am not suggesting we must stop thinking, for this would be an impossibility! However, how often have you driven somewhere and realised when you get there that you can’t remember some of the route? Or perhaps your child is talking to you and you’re not really listening to them, you are so wrapped up in your thoughts and then they ask a question and you’re not sure of the response because your focus was somewhere else? We have ‘monkey minds’. Thoughts trigger thoughts and before we know it we’re off focusing on something else. Have you ever practised meditation, or yoga, and realised that you have not thought about the words being spoken, or you start with good intentions and then realised that you completely missed a lot of the practice as your mind was ‘elsewhere?’ I’ve taken part in guided meditations where I’ve got to the end and can’t feedback to the group as I’m not entirely sure what I was doing, but it certainly wasn’t ‘following a footpath through a wood!’
Mindfulness teaches us that when we notice our thoughts have wandered to gently bring our attention back to the activity, to the sensation of feeling in our bodies, to the movement of the breath, or the sounds we are paying attention to, whatever activity it is we are doing. Think how much of life we’ve missed because we’re distracted from the present moment.
Another aspect of this key element is being aware of ‘now’. When did you take time to really enjoy a cup of tea, or other drink? Did you feel the warmth from the cup, the smell, the sensation of the heat rising towards your lips? What about the feel of your lips on the cup before you take a sip? Have you taken a sip and noticed how it feels in your mouth, whether there’s a change in taste the longer you hold the liquid in your mouth? Or noticed the colour, are there any bubbles on the surface, or froth?
Unless you practise mindfulness the answer is probably no. In which case, how much of our day to day lives are we actually missing the full experience of because we are preoccupied? Why not try drinking mindfully the next time you make a drink?
Give it a go and let me know how you got on.
The final key element I’m going to discuss in this blog is: Focusing more on the positive, being aware of it, however small:
As humans we naturally have a negativity bias. Think back to an event in your past for a moment. Which events or episodes are we most likely to remember? Negative ones. Now this is vital for our survival and to support us in the fight/flight response to danger, but it’s also very sad that we can still feel the negative emotions surrounding unpleasant events many years on.
Rick Hanson is one of my favourite authors in the field of Mindfulness. He’s a neuroscientist and psychologist, and in his book, Buddha’s Brain explains how our ancestors survived by approaching pleasant stimuli, like a carrot, and avoiding unpleasant stimuli, like an incoming stick from a neighbouring tribe. Our ancestors eventually realised that avoiding a stick, and possible injury or death, was far more important than picking a carrot. Therefore, over time our brain slowly adapted and eventually we became wired to pay more attention to information and events that are negative.
You can read more about the negativity bias in Rick Hanson’s article by following the link below.
However, the good news is that mindfulness can help us start to shift that bias so that we begin to notice the good that is occurring. We will never lose our response to danger, but we can start to address the balance. I’ve shared the following activity with you before, but it serves us well to share it again here. It’s ‘Taking in the Good’ and can be found on numerous sites on the internet.
www.positivepsychologyprogram.com goes into more detail, and you can find a guided ‘Taking in the Good’ meditation on my YouTube Channel. The link to which can be found elsewhere on my website.
So, let’s end this article with a short ‘Taking in the Good’ exercise. As always, settle yourself into an upright and dignified position and take a few moments to focus on your breath which will allow you to settle ready for the practice.
Taking in the Good:
First: Look for good facts, and turn them into good experiences.
Make a conscious effort to look for the positive aspects of your experiences.
Next: Savour the experience.
Give yourself plenty of time to fully enjoy that moment. The longer we can hold a positive thought in our minds more neurons fire together to help us retain that memory.
Finally: Sense that the good experience is sinking into you.
Notice where you feel the emotions connected with this positive experience. Do you feel a warmth? If so, where? What emotions do you feel? Where do you feel them? Be curious about what you feel.
Take as long as you wish with this practice. A minute for each stage, or a minute for the whole practice. Do what feels right for you.
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this read. There are many other Key Elements to mindfulness and I’ll discuss them in a future blog.
In the meantime, keep practising, keep reading, and do pop over to the Forthcoming Workshops page of my website if you haven’t for a while as you’ll find an updated list of events for the rest of this year.
With Serenity & Balance
Each month, throughout 2017, I will be posting in more detail about the topic of the month. Let me know if there's anything specific you'd like me to discuss.