What exactly IS mindfulness?
Yes we've heard the word. But what is it and how it is supposed to help?
Mindfulness is defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally”. Practising mindfulness helps us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings and better able to manage them.
How does it help?
We all know what it feels like to get lost in thought. Most of us will also have experienced getting lost in more difficult thoughts. Remember those times when you start to automatically judge your experiences and ruminate on how things should be different.
“I’m feeling really tired and low today”… “I shouldn’t be feeling tired and low, I have a big meeting later”…”I’m going to mess it up”… “I’m never going to get anywhere with this job”… “I’m such a failure”. Round and round in an endless negative spiral.
Mindful meditation involves spending time focusing our attention on something specific in the present moment (often our breathing). We notice when our thoughts wander off and gently bringing the focus back. Doing this regularly means you become more aware of those times when your thoughts are heading in a negative direction. You become more able to stop them by refocusing the mind on something else.
You don’t have to be still to be mindful
Meditation is a key part of mindfulness. It can help to get started by doing some sitting meditations but you don’t have to be still to be mindful of your body.
In fact it is often easier to be mindful while moving. Lots of mindfulness practitioners promote mindful exercise. This could be yoga or Pilates but it could also be running or cycling.
A key element of mindfulness practice is the body scan. In this exercise you move your focus slowly down the body, focusing on how each part feels in turn. You could do it lying down, but why not give it a go while moving.
Next time you are exercising, turn the music off for a moment and focus on one particular sensation. It might be the stretch of your hamstrings in downward dog, the feel of your feet hitting the treadmill, the burn of your thighs while spinning or the cool water of the pool. If you find your mind wanders off, gently bring it back to focusing on your chosen sensation.
Benefits for the body and the mind
Taking some time to exercise mindfully can help exercise feel more enjoyable.
It can help you to become more aware of your minds tendency to wander. It can help you fully enjoy the feelings and sensations of exercising, that sense of power and ability.
With better focus you might see better results. All too often we exercise with our attention on the iPod, TV screen or calorie counter. We might not notice pain or tension. Focusing on the sensations in your body can help you notice what is twinging, and what is feeling strong. You can adjust your posture and stride, perform better and avoid injury.
Sometimes zoning out with a podcast or tunes is just what you need. But it might be worth trying to be a bit more mindful sometimes too.
About the author
Clare (@fostress) writes and works for Mind, Time To Change, The Miscarriage Association and YouthNet. She blogs about mental health and manages her depression and anxiety by running with her collie Dr Watson.