Mindfulness - what's it all about?
MINDFULNESS. We've all probably heard this word thrown around in conversations these days. With the amount of times it's talked about, it can seem like mindfulness is the answer to a lot of things going on in life. I thought I would take some time to talk a little bit about mindfulness; explain what it is, when it's actually useful (and when it's not), and how you can ease your way into it.
Mindulness can be tricky to define. One definition from mindfulness.ie that I really like defines it as "...deliberately bringing our attention to the present with open-hearted awareness and with an attitude of kindness." I particularly like this definition because it specifically involves the kindness and open-heartedness.
Actively bringing our attention to the 'right now' can be so challenging and it is easy to be mean to ourselves as thoughts wander into our minds during a mindfulness activity.
It's important to note that mindfulness is NOT about just being more optimistic/positive all the time. Rather it is about just sitting with what is going on right now. That's a tricky concept, but with practice you start to understand what that really means to you.
Mindfulness is NOT just relaxing in a new and fancy way. Mindfulness takes some work. While some mindfulness activities can be relaxing for sure, that's not really the point of it.
But mindfulness is not all about constantly mediating or listening to mindfulness tapes all the time. That would be a misconception. It's simply about being with the present. There are many ways to be more mindful in your daily life, and I'll list a few ways below.
1. Do a body scan before bed each night. A body scan is just what it sounds like: you mindfully scan your body, staying present with the way it is existing. More about body scans can be found here. There are also a number of videos on youtube that have body scan scripts you can follow along to. I really like this one. Body scans are a really great way to start working your way into mindfulness.
2. Go for a mindfulness walk. As you walk your dog, or just stroll around the block, try to observe what is all around you. What colours are the trees? How wonderful is the hustle and bustle of city noise all around you? What do you smell? As thoughts float in and out of your mind, just notice them, then let them keep on floating away. Taking 15 minutes to soak yourself in the present surroundings is a nice start into mindfulness.
3. Try mindfulness colouring. Adult colouring books became all the rage in 2015/2016, and with good reason! Putting your phone away, and colouring in some mandala designs or your favourite Game of Thrones colouring book is an amazing way to take some time with yourself and be in the present.
Youtube also has a plethora of audio scripts for mindfulness meditation practice. So go search around on there if you think meditation is something you would like to start trying.
For anyone in Ireland who would like to jump right into mindfulness, there are many courses, and retreat centres across the country. Just Google it! I've heard really good things about the Dzogchen Buddhist Meditation Centre on the Beara peninsula. I've been to the centre and the location is beautiful. They do a number of retreats and mindfulness activities for beginners up to experts. Going on a mindfulness retreat can be a wonderful introduction to mindfulness and a lovely opportunity to meet new people.
So why mindfulness?
Practicing mindfulness has been linked to a number of positive well-being factors. A meta-analysis (a study that analyses all the results of previous studies on a certain topic or research question) found that practicing mindfulness mediation moderately improved anxiety, depression, and pain. It should also be noted though that the same study found that mindfulness made little difference to positive mood, sleep, and eating behaviours.
So what does this tell us?
Mindfulness is a great tool for your mental health toolbox, if it works for YOU. Actively practicing mindfulness can help promote wellness, but it isn't the perfect answer to whatever you may be going through. It's not a replacement for medications or therapeutic interventions (though many therapy models would now incorporate mindfulness). It's simply another tool to help you stay well and remain resilient when stress comes your way.
picture credit: https://www.uhs.umich.edu/mindfulness