High Country Haven founder and psychologist Rachel Meadows shares her knowledge on mindfulness and how it can improve your mental wellbeing.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is not a new idea, although you may be forgiven for thinking so with the increasing number of mindfulness apps and literature on the topic. It has been around for Centuries in Eastern traditions such as Buddhism and the benefits have long been known and practiced.
The good news is that ordinary people can benefit from the wisdom of these traditions and we can practice simple forms of Mindfulness without years of dedication to a spiritual practice.
“Mindfulness is about being in the present moment, not concerning yourself with the past or the future, just the now,” says Rachel. “Practicing Mindfulness is to purposefully pay attention to what is happening now, without judgement.”
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindful.org
Benefits of mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness meditation has a physical impact on the brain, resulting in stress reduction, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life. It has also been shown to reduce rumination (continuously thinking about negative aspects of situations which can be unhealthy), boost working memory and cognitive flexibility and result in less emotional reactivity.
Experts suggest that rather than being static, the brain is adaptable and you can train your brain to change through practising meditation. The impacts are long-lasting and are not just evident at the time you are meditating.
How you can practice mindfulness?
Rachel says it is easy to get started with meditation. “There are many traditions and disciplines with rich and meaningful teachings, however, you can start to benefit from learning and practicing some simple skills,” she says
We talk about a few ways you can access these below:
- Mindfulness Meditations
Starting with structured mindfulness meditation is a great way to start your mindfulness journey, as they can provide a time and space to devote to mindfulness. Meditation is about training yourself to be aware and fully present in the given moment, noticing and acknowledging, but not judging, everything from your breath, the feel of your body and the emotions that come and go.
Mindfulness apps can be a very useful when you are starting off in your practice and even as you get more advanced. A few suggested apps include Calm, Headspace, Aura, Insight Timer and Stop, Breathe & Think.
Mindful.org is another helpful resource the provides mediation sessions and information about mindfulness to get you started.
- Mindfulness in simple actions
Practising mindfulness in the form of a structured meditation each day can be a great way to start, but it is another step to take mindfulness into other parts of your life.
You can bring mindfulness into your life so that you are less reactive and more purposeful in your actions and responses to challenges you might face. Taking a few deep breaths before deciding an action to a stressful situation, or stopping to pay attention to what is going on before reacting, is a way you can tap into mindfulness in your daily life.
Doing this can help you quieten the instinctive fight or flight response, which is our automatic reaction, and allow you to process the situation in a rational and calm way. An example of this is stopping and taking a moment to breathe before answering the phone.
Bringing mindfulness into simple daily actions like brushing your teeth, or eating, can also help you integrate mindfulness into your life.
- Mindfulness through Yoga
Yoga is another way you can improve your mindfulness, says Rachel. “Yoga is a form of Mindfulness with movement whereby you increase your flexibility, strength and mind-body awareness, benefiting both physically and mentally.”
Many forms of modern yoga practice also draw on Buddhist traditions including meditation. Mindfulness is accessed by focussing on the breath and movement and you are encouraged to remain in the moment and set aside thoughts that enter your awareness.
Look for classes or online videos that focus on mindfulness or incorporate meditation.
Your Mindfulness Journey
Once you start practicing mindfulness regularly, you will start to see results in your concentration, focus, resilience and perspective. But like with any new skill, you will no doubt face setbacks. Remember that mindfulness is called a practice for a reason.
The aim is not to reach perfection, it is about accessing and attuning your mind to a state of awareness, knowing that your mind will inevitably drift to thoughts of the day and that it is a matter of simply noticing this and bringing your attention back to the present moment.