Most of us have probably heard of mindfulness, maybe it’s been suggested to us, maybe we’ve tried it out, or maybe we religiously practise it and think it’s fantastic. But for those of us who are not gurus of mindfulness, is it all just a load of codswallop?
A lot of it might seem that way. It might sound like something an 18-year-old might have heard whilst rambling to a long-lost monastery to “find” themselves in the Himalayas on a gap year.
Fun fact: it’s not far off!
Not quite from the Himalayas, the term ‘mindfulness’ comes from the Pāli word sati meaning to ‘hold in mind’ or ‘remember’, derived from a sacred Buddhist text-
Today, mindfulness is a widely suggested, popular coping mechanism referring to focused awareness of our present state. But what on earth does this mean?
A definition of mindfulness might mention ‘meditation’, ‘intense focus’ or ‘without judgement or interpretation’, all of which may feel a little bewildering.
What it actually is;
A moment where we can focus solely on what is happening around us, accepting it for what it is.
As humans, we can spend rather a lot of time daydreaming, planning, problem-solving, and ruminating (continuously thinking the same thoughts, usually negative or sad), which can be very draining and makes us more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. So the idea of focusing on our immediate surroundings, not worrying about what has been or what might be, sounds pretty helpful right?
Practising mindfulness literally directs our attention away from any kind of over-thinking, the likely reason for why it’s increasingly used in therapy, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and others. And there is buckets of evidence out there highlighting its many benefits (we’ll mention some here but we didn’t have a big enough space to list them all, follow the link for more):
Reduced stress levels
Boosts working memory
Reduces emotional reactivity - how we react to events and experiences
Improves relationship satisfaction
So what are we thinking so far: does it still sound like utter rubbish? Truly understanding what to do might help us further - how do we accept ‘this moment’ and totally focus on it?
We recognise 2 skillsets in mindfulness; the what and how.
What: referring to what we are actually doing in the practice.
Observe - We mean noticing. Noticing what is around us; what we see, hear, smell, feel and maybe even taste, and what is within; our feelings or thoughts.
Describe - We mean saying it exactly how it is. Our opinions here are not relevant, we’re describing without judgement.
Participate - We mean throwing ourselves into the experience without judging ourselves - ever attempted a smooth move into a downward dog and accidentally let out a fart on the way? That kind of funny but embarrassing stuff, we just have to embrace and laugh along with, without worrying about it too much!
And how: this is the way in which we do the ‘what’.
Non-judgementally: let go of evaluations, opinions, judgements - this is the accepting part - it is what it is in the moment!
One at a time: let go of multitasking, concentrating on the task at hand - whatever the mindful task is.
Effectively: let go of right versus wrong, fair versus unfair. Act as skillfully as the goal requires, that is to do whatever is needed in the moment.
We think this sounds rather intense, but practising mindfulness doesn’t have to be super strenuous. There are different ways to practice, some will suit us, others won’t, or it might not be for us period.
We might have come across structured mindfulness and being mindful, but what’s the difference?
A structured mindfulness exercise might be a meditation; what we mean by this is that it can require setting time aside, having peace and quiet without interruption and it can take quite some time to get used to sitting with ourselves in this way. An example structured exercise is the Body Scan Meditation:
Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions or thoughts associated with each part of your body.
Being mindful, however, might be a simple exercise as low key as going for a walk and noticing what you see, hear and feel on the journey. We can also be mindful while doing household chores; while doing the washing up, notice how the water feels on your hands, the contrast between the hot water and cold plates. Simply focusing on the task at hand - literally! These can be practised pretty much anywhere, anytime and we’ve probably done this a few times without even realising so it’s a great place to start introducing mindfulness - if we don’t think it’s codswallop after reading this.
Final thoughts: So, is it a load of codswallop or might it work for us?
Mindfulness isn't for everyone but we can give it a try and see how we feel. Be prepared to persevere, it can take time and practice to master. Give it a shot and let us know how it goes!