So, what actually is mindfulness?
Mindfulness involves being fully engaged in the present moment, paying attention to your body, thoughts, and surroundings without judgment. It’s common to become engaged in obsessive thoughts, worrying about the past or future, which causes us to become anxious. That’s where mindfulness comes in, snapping us back to the present moment. This is something every human is able to do, it just takes practice.
The aim of mindfulness is to:
- Become more self-aware
- Feel calmer
- Feel more equipped to deal with your thoughts
- Be kinder towards yourself
There are three main types of mindfulness:
- Meditation, whether that be seated, standing, or moving
- Short pauses during our day-to-day life
- Combining meditation with activities, such as yoga
There are various techniques you can use to bring your thoughts to the present, such as noticing how thoughts come and go in your mind, without defining who you are or your experience. This can be tricky so it may help to visualise those thoughts as clouds floating by in the sky, eventually they will pass. Another technique is to focus on what your body is telling you. When we experience distressing thoughts, our chest might tighten, or our breathing may become shallow. Bringing your attention to your breathing, for example, may help to calm these thoughts.
Here are some mindfulness exercises you can try out:
Mindful Eating / The Raisin Exercise
This is a great introductory exercise when first starting to practice mindfulness. It can be performed with any food but for this example we’ll use a raisin.
Suspend your belief and pretend you have never seen a raisin before. Pay careful attention to how the raisin looks, how it feels and how the skin of the raisin responds to manipulation. Then, focus on the sensory experiences of how the raisin smells and how it tastes. If your mind does wander while performing the exercise, simply bring your focus back to the raisin, or object, in front of you.
The Body Scan
The Body Scan exercise is very easily accessible as it does not require any external stimuli. Begin by lying on your back with your palms facing up and feet falling slightly apart. Bring awareness to your breath, noticing the rhythm and the rise and fall of your chest. Next, guide your attention to your body. How the texture of clothing feels against your skin, the surface on which your body is resting and the temperature. Then start to focus on parts of your body that may feel sore or heavy.
A typical Body Scan will move systematically up the body, beginning at the feet working up to the head.
It can be difficult to quieten our thoughts without external stimuli to focus on, so mindful seeing may be a helpful exercise. This involves finding a space at a window, or on a bench outside with a good view of your surroundings. Look at everything there is to see but avoid trying to label what you see. For example, rather than categorising the birch in front of you as a ‘tree,’ instead focus on the colours and textures. Pay attention to the movement of your surroundings, such as the leaves rustling in the breeze. Observe but do not pass judgement and do not fixate. If your thoughts start to drift, bring them back to your surroundings.
If you find yourself struggling with mindfulness exercises you can try being mindful while walking or running as part of your daily routine. You can do this by simply noticing the feeling of your body. How the breeze feels against your skin, the smells around you and the texture of the ground beneath your feet. Mindfulness takes practice, so it may not be easy at first. Just remember to go slow and be kind to yourself.
If you enjoyed this, check out our post on how nature helps mental health.