Would you like to do something to mark World Mindfulness Day or are you are curious what mindfulness is all about?
Mindfulness is a fairly simple idea about how we direct our focus of attention, but like many things that may sound simple, it can be a little tricky to actually do! The basic principles of mindfulness are about:
- Paying attention to the present moment
- On purpose
- Without judgement
For a more comprehensive description of mindfulness you can visit: https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/Mindfulness.pdf
Well, it can be easy sometimes, but at other times it can be a surprisingly tricky task! If you think about how often our thoughts transport us into the past or the future rather than being in the present moment, and if you consider how often we really pay attention on purpose, you may start to realise that we can quite easily go through our day doing the exact opposite of being mindful! Judgement is also very difficult to change. We make so many judgements every day, so automatically, we may barely even notice that we are doing it.
So where do we begin?
First of all, it can be helpful to focus your attention on your breath. By doing this, you can try to notice moment-to-moment from one breath to the next. Your breathing is always happening in the present moment and it provides a helpful ‘anchor point’ to come back to if your mind wanders off (which it almost certainly will).
While you are focussing on your breathing, try to notice what it feels like, for example, do you notice the air in your nostrils or at the back of your throat, or through the movement of your stomach or chest? It is OK if your focus shifts – just go with the flow. So, you might notice your chest moving first, then notice the air in your nostrils, then back to your chest again.
What we want to avoid doing is judging what it feels like e.g. “ooh, my chest feels a bit tight”, “I hate having a stuffy nose with this awful cold”… etc.
However, it can be quite difficult to just ‘not judge’ your experience and you may be wondering if you are not judging, what do you do instead? I find it easier to think of having an attitude of curiosity and openness (because trying not to judge your experience is a little bit like trying not to think about a pink elephant… I bet you’re thinking about a pink elephant now that I’ve suggested not to!).
So, now that you know how to focus in the present moment, on purpose and without judgement, it should be a piece of cake…
Apart from the fact that you have a very active brain which will wander off in all manner of directions, trying to sabotage your well-intended and purposeful focus of attention! The good news is that the aim of mindfulness isn’t to prevent your mind from wandering off onto what you want for your tea or what is happening in Game of Thrones, what you think your pet is doing while you are at work or a dream you had last night about being chased by a giant cheese-triangle!
No, the aim of mindfulness is to acknowledge that your mind has wandered and then to gently guide it back to the present moment. You can even apply mindfulness to your thoughts and observe them in the present moment and without judgement if you wish.
This is, of course, only a small snippet of what mindfulness can be. You may wish to focus your attention on your senses in the present moment i.e. what you can see, hear, touch, smell or taste at that moment. You could focus mindfully while doing a specific activity like walking and feeling your feet on the ground, cooking or baking and noticing all the wonderful smells, or even daily tasks can be done in a more mindful way. We can notice our emotions and thoughts in the same way too.
And you don’t need to do it all on your own! There is a wealth of online resource and apps for android phones such as guided meditations and mindfulness reminders, there are mindfulness courses and retreats and if you are experiencing depression or anxiety, Leeds IAPT runs a mindfulness course too!
Here are a few free resources to get you started if you are interested in trying it out for yourself (this is not an exhaustive list!) and we wish you all a Happy World Mindfulness Day from Touchstone IAPT!