Updated: Jul 22
What is it?
Mindfulness is about being aware of, accepting and giving attention to, the present moment. Just experiencing that moment fully, the space around you without criticism or judgement.
You may read about it in a book, hear about it in a lecture or talk about it with friends. These things will give you a better understanding but in reality it is taking a deep breath, calming your mind and not letting the outside world in. It’s an escape even if just for a few moments.
We live in a new era of human health were understanding that self managed practices benefit mental and physical health.It is something you incorporate in your everyday life. A lifestyle change.
People often ask me if meditation works and its usually followed up with “I can’t sit in silence for that long” That was once me! I was someone who couldn’t sit in silence without being totally consumed with my own thoughts that I would rather keep myself busy. The thought of sitting and focusing on breathing made me panic. Now I get up and meditate every morning. Sometimes its for an hour, sometimes its only 10-20 minutes. But I have become more aware of the present moment and it has made me more grateful to the world around me that I no longer have to fight with my own head!
Who has the time to meditate? Anyone can make time, especially for themselves. There are so many different variations and instructions but the best thing to do is try it for a while.
Whilst there are studies world wide about mindfulness and does it work, there are universities, huge corporations, public services that have classes or courses on mindfulness and meditation solely because of the increase in need to seek help for mental health problems. Cambridge and Harvard University have their own program ‘Mindful Studies’ and years of research to back up theories of mindfulness meditation. Back in 2012, researcher and scientist, Gaelle Desbordes, demonstrated that changes in the brain activity in subjects who have learned to meditate, hold steady even when not meditating.
So yes it does work! It works, even as a way to destress, to aid in clearing your head and not over reacting or even reacting to things that would usually cause you angst. It helps appreciate the small things when you sit and think of nothing but the space you’re moving through. It will not however, solve problems from the outside world.
Mindfulness is innate. It is not an extra activity we do. We all have the ability to be mindful. It’s using that inherent quality and understanding that by cultivating it with simple exercises will benefit us both mentally and physically.
It is very much evidence based. There are studies worldwide that have discovered the link between physical and mental health and combine contemporary science with ancient wisdom, mindfulness has become a recognised form of treatment in mainstream medicine. Scientists at Harvard have discovered practitioners have less grey marker sun parts of their brain related to stress and anxiety and more grey matter in areas related to learning, memory and empathy.
Here are a few things you need to know about mindfulness.
Your mind translates 50k-70k thoughts per day 30-40 per minute. The mind is like a muscle, the more you use it, the more it weighs. So just 10 minutes of meditation is only 1% of your day.
Meditation will help decrease anxiety and stress levels, help with addictions, sleeping problems and self control. It has been shown to reduce weekly binges by 50%-70%, which was me not so long ago. I look back now and think of the torture I was putting not only my body through but my brain. I would tell myself junk food would make me feel better and eat it until I felt sick. I would then tell myself how disgusting I was for easting all the junk food and punish myself in the gym! Such lunacy in a failed attempt at happiness.
Mindfulness is a lifestyle. A way of living that will bring awareness to everything in our lives. It makes you care about the little things and helps with the easing of unnecessary stress.
Here are a few steps to getting to the bottom of your authentic self.
Becoming so consumed in the daily ‘rat-race’ that you feel stuck? If you find it hard to take a time out in the midst of the daily grind, you can take small steps to settle a busy mind. You can sit in silence and steady your thoughts.
Meditation begins and ends in the body. Taking the time to pause and pay attention to the environment around us. Mindfulness can be self-taught, learnt in a group or with a therapist one-to-one.
Find somewhere comfortable and stable. Allow yourself to relax. Allow your shoulders to drop and calm your mind.and breath..
There are many different breathing techniques but I find the 4-4-4-4 mantra is the one you can do at any point during the day. When you wake up in the morning, when you’re running a little late, when you’re getting the kids ready, when a situation arises and you can feel the negativity creeping in. Observe your thoughts and recognise when they cross a line between thinking and ruminating.
Breath in for 4 seconds through your nose
Hold your inhale for 4 seconds
Breath out for 4 seconds through your mouth making a whooshing sound.
Retreat 4 times
Or you can continue until you need to. They use this practise in kundalini yoga and even the Navy Seals.
There are different techniques you can use but this is the first one I mastered before moving onto more advanced breathing methods. Small acts of moment to moment mindfulness are the key to a mellow mind.
There is the 4-7-8 which again is the number of seconds per inhale-hold-exhale. This was something I started to do when I was struggling to sleep and before I knew it was drifting off into a deep sleep within minutes.
Breath in for 4 seconds through your nose
Hold your inhale for 7 seconds
Breath out for 8 seconds through your mouth making a whooshing sound.
Retreat 4 times
I recently tried the WimHof method which was being submerged in ice cold water for several minutes. This challenge was a little out of my comfort zone but even when I started to feel light headed or frozen it ended with I felt an incredible feeling of connectedness. I even got out of the ice cold pool feeling warm and exhilarated.
Ok so some of you may not be ready to do any sort of sitting quietly and breathing. You may want to try writing down your thoughts. In this case, try to keep it positive and gratuity and purpose. This is a good way to release and declutter unwanted thoughts. Spend 5 minutes in the morning clearing your head and setting your intentions for the day. Spend 5 minutes in the garden or just sitting up in bed. Even things such as colouring in has shown in research that it relives stress. It's creative and its fun.
Being aware of the present stops you from worrying about the past or becoming anxious about the future. I’ve been toying with the phrase it is a fundamental essence of life because I didn’t think it actually made sense but personally I think meditation and mindfulness is both fundamental and essential.
We already have the capacity to be present, and it doesn’t require us to change who we are.