Tag Archive Mindfulness

ByAnxious Minds

Does Mindfulness Meditation Really Make You Kinder?

Mindfulness meditation proponents often tout it as a way to create a more compassionate society. But that claim seems a bit dubious upon first glance.

After all, meditation is an internal affair—focusing on our own experiences, emotions, and thoughts—and people generally meditate alone. What does that have to do with how we treat anyone else? While some meditation practices directly aim for increasing compassion—such as loving-kindness meditation—others focus more on creating mindful attention, a focus on one’s present experience. This seem less likely to automatically impact how we relate to others.

Yet evidence is mounting that mindfulness meditation proponents might be right. Though the science is far from conclusive, it points to the likelihood that mindfulness meditation does lead to “prosocial” (kind and caring) feelings and thoughts, and more compassionate behavior towards others. And it may do so by training people in mindful awareness.

“Almost any approach for cultivating care for others needs to start with paying attention,” says Stanford researcher Erika Rosenberg. “The beginning of cultivating compassion and concern, or doing something for the benefit of others, is first noticing what something or someone means to you.”

A gateway to caring behavior

One recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology took a stab at figuring out the relationship between mindfulness meditation and prosocial behaviour.

Daniel Berry and his colleagues randomly assigned some participants to either a brief mindfulness training or a training in controlling their attention. The mindfulness training involved focusing on momentary inner experiences: the breath, thoughts, feelings, and body sensations; the attention training involved focusing on important goals in your life.

Then, participants played an online game called Cyberball. “Players” (represented by coloured dots) tossed the ball to each other; but after a few tosses, two of the players excluded the third. Though participants were told the dots represented real people located in other rooms, the interactions were actually pre-programmed.

Initially, participants simply observed the game in action. Afterwards, they were asked to write emails to each player in the game, saying “whatever they wanted.” Their responses to the excluded victim were coded by independent raters for warmth, which served as one measure of prosocial behaviour. In addition, researchers surveyed how concerned participants were for the victim and how distressed they themselves felt after the game.

Participants then played a second Cyberball game with the players they’d just observed. How often the participant threw the ball to the previously excluded victim was considered a second measure of prosocial behaviour.

The findings showed that participants who had trained in mindfulness reported feeling more empathic concern for excluded players—meaning, they felt more tender, sympathetic, and compassionate toward them—but not more distress themselves, compared to simple attention training. They also expressed more warmth in their emails to victims and threw the ball more frequently to them, demonstrating that these feelings were tied to compassionate action. The results also held among a different group of people who didn’t receive any training, but reported on surveys that they were more mindful to begin with.

Berry was not surprised by these findings.

“From the philosophical and religious traditions from which mindfulness comes, it’s been long understood that practicing meditation, and cultivating mindfulness, in particular, can conduce to virtuous action,” he says.

So how did mindfulness impact prosocial action? When the mindfulness training induced higher levels of empathic concern in people, they helped the victims more—providing one potential explanation. Increased attention alone, on the other hand, didn’t seem to play a role. This means that mindfulness must be doing more than just increasing how much people notice that someone is suffering, Berry explains; it must be actually increasing their concern.

This means that mindfulness must be doing more than just increasing how much people notice that someone is suffering, Berry explains; it must be actually increasing their concern.

These findings fit well with Rosenberg’s views. While paying attention is the “gateway” to more caring behaviour—allowing you to notice that someone is suffering or that your actions are hurting someone—it’s not enough to elicit action. “You still have to have the motivation to care,” she says.

In additional experiments, Berry and his colleagues ruled out other potential explanations for the positive effects of mindfulness. For example, they compared mindfulness training to a progressive muscle relaxation training, and found the same results favouring mindfulness. They even tried measuring whether mindfulness meditation increased outrage toward the perpetrators in the game, rather than concern for victims. But these factors didn’t change the outcome: People who received mindfulness instruction still felt more empathic concern, and in turn acted more compassionately.

“I think there’s evidence to suggest that the default state of humans is to be focused on the self,” says Berry. “Perhaps what mindfulness does is temporarily break us from that self-focus so that we can be other-oriented.” Indeed, one recent study found that more mindful people are also less concerned with goals that protect their self-image, such as getting recognition from others or avoiding showing any weakness. They care more about compassion-oriented goals—like giving only constructive comments to others or avoiding doing any harm to others.

Mindfulness meditation makes you kind

Of course, Berry’s study was done in a lab with college students, and we don’t know if these findings translate into the real world—or how long the caring feelings and behaviour will last after such a short mindfulness practice. But other research seems to point in the same direction.

In her own research, Rosenberg has found that when people practice meditation over a longer period and are then exposed to videos of people suffering, they not only have increased prosocial emotions like compassion, but they have lower “rejection emotions,” like disgust and contempt. This held true even when meditators witnessed someone suffering who was more difficult to find compassion for—like American soldiers bragging about killing Iraqis.

“It’s one thing to show compassion for the victims, it’s another level—really getting it—to show compassion for the perpetrators,” she says.

In a 2015 study, students who used a meditation app for three weeks were more likely to offer a chair to a distressed student entering a waiting room on crutches—even when other students didn’t offer help—than a group who had used a brain training app. Berry points to a study that found mindfulness can decrease aggressive behaviour, and to another finding that even short trainings in mindfulness can reduce implicit racial and age bias.

In recent review of research in the area, Christina Luberto and her colleagues found that mindfulness training indeed appears to make us kinder toward others. Analysing only studies that used randomised controlled experiments, they found that meditation training had significant effects on people’s self-reported feelings of compassion and empathy, and also on objective prosocial behaviours—such as increased giving in an economics game or helping another person in distress.

They found that meditation training had significant effects on people’s self-reported feelings of compassion and empathy, and also on objective prosocial behaviours—such as increased giving in an economics game or helping another person in distress.

Remaining issues for mindfulness research

One thing everyone seems to agree on: There is still much to be learned about the benefits of meditation, including what is most effective and for whom, especially when it comes to prosocial behaviour. And while studies like Rosenberg’s and Berry’s may have been carefully constructed, some researchers criticise meditation research in general—often with good reason—for being biased or poorly designed.

Many mindfulness studies are correlational rather than experimental, which means they are less helpful in nailing down mindfulness as the cause of any observed benefits. Also, many researchers insert their own bias into the design, sometimes employing a coauthor as the mindfulness instructor. Rosenberg worries about this as well: When you work with a charismatic teacher, she says, it’s less clear if the effects of the program are due to the tools being taught or something about the teacher that makes students more committed. Issues like these and others, delineated in another recent research review by Ute Kreplin and her colleagues, can lead to overly generous interpretations.

Another problem is that much of the early research on mindfulness—and even current research, including Kreplin’s and Luberto’s reviews—uses multi-component interventions, which can make it hard to tease out the effects of mindful attention alone. For example, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction often involves a mixture of focused breathing, loving-kindness meditation, yoga, and walking meditation within an eight-week program. The program’s excellent results are promising for people who want to take it, but how can we know that mindfulness itself accounts for its effectiveness?

Still, Rosenberg says, it’s important not to go too far down this path of trying to whittle down meditation into its smallest units. After all, mindfulness meditation came to us via a long tradition of contemplative practice, and all of the practices are ultimately used to increase our attention and our ability to control our reactions to experiences. The practices were probably meant to build on one another, not be performed in isolation.

“There are many scientists, and I’m beginning to be one of them, who think that it doesn’t make any sense ecologically to separate out the components of meditation, because they’re intimately linked.”

Berry’s study avoids many of the problems outlined in Kreplin’s review. His mindfulness intervention was solely focused on mindful attention and devoid of instructions in kindness or compassion; the prosocial outcomes were objectively measurable; the intervention was done by someone other than the researchers; and the study was experimental rather than correlational, including many controls. That bodes well for its significance, though Berry is still cautious, taking Kreplin’s meta-analysis seriously.

“At this stage, this area of study is just taking off,” he says. “Some of the findings from the meta-analysis may be based on only two or three studies. If anything, it points to the need for more research and more rigorous research.”

What to make of all of this? While more research does indeed need to be done, there appears to be increasing evidence that mindfulness meditation helps people be more prosocial.

And that’s good news. As mindfulness continues being promoted as a way to boost our personal well-being, it’s refreshing to know that it may just be helping us create a more compassionate society, too.

This article was adapted from Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre, one of Mindful’s partners. View the original article.
ByAnxious Minds

A Mindfulness Practice to Cultivate Nonjudgmental Awareness

There’s a space that opens up for yourself when you can sit with your thoughts and sensations and practice observing them without reacting to them—without trying to fix them or ruminate over them. It’s sort of like remembering your most horribly embarrassing moment and appreciating the pings of regret and shame—just finding some room to let yourself be human for a little.

The more we practice sitting with our whole selves non judgmentally (the good, bad, beautiful, and painful), the better we get at opening ourselves up to every kind of moment with discernment and acceptance, rather than judgment, reactivity and remorse.

Meditation gives us the opportunity to sit with discomfort—bored, achy, restless, and distracted, we choose to stay with it, anyway. We can find ourselves caught up in fear, disappointment, and self-criticism in any part of our day. That’s all common and normal. Meditation is the chance to practice giving ourselves permission to feel exactly what we feel, even when we’re not as okay as we’d like to be.

Meditation is the chance to practice giving ourselves permission to feel exactly what we feel, even when we’re not as okay as we’d like to be.

We don’t have to be falsely happy about anything, but we do need to openly face reality. Over time, we can more easily accept our challenges and navigate whatever we find from a place of equanimity, built through the practice of mindful awareness.

Nonjudgmental Awareness Practice

To allow you to fully experience this meditation, we recommend that you listen to the audio version. However, you can also simply read the text below. If you choose to do so, read through the entire script first to familiarise yourself with the practice, then do the practice, referring back to the text as needed and pausing briefly after each paragraph. Take about fifteen minutes for the practice. You can do this practice in a seated position.

Sit for a few minutes, focusing on the sensation of breathing. Your mind will stay busy. Assist it in settling by noticing thoughts as thoughts, and then patiently returning to the breath. 

Now bring to mind something you don’t like that much about yourself, or that you wish you didn’t have. Choose something uncomfortable, but not overwhelming. 

Notice what arises. It might be a sense of physical discomfort, or an emotion, or an anxious thought. Give attention to all of it: the facts, your reactions, emotions like disappointment or frustration, and anything else that comes up.

If the practice becomes too uncomfortable, take care of yourself. Allow yourself a break, seek out support, and let go of the practice for now. Come back to whatever feels most appropriate in this moment.

As we continue a longer period of silence, sustain awareness. This is how things are. Each time you get distracted, come back to your practice. 

Acknowledge this aspect of experience right now as best as your able, without any need to fix or change anything for this moment. 

For the last few minutes, take time for self-compassion. On each in-breath, be aware that this is a challenge for you right now, and all people have challenges. On each out-breath, wish yourself the same happiness and wellness that you’d wish for your best friend. Perhaps: may I find strength and happiness in the face of adversity today.

On ending, come back with several breaths. End with a few minutes of meditation, simply feeling your breath move in and out, noting thoughts and letting them go. Set an intention to move forward with both acceptance and resolve

ByAnxious Minds

Defining Mindfulness

Mindfulness—where does it come from? Naturally, we hear this question a lot. We’ve addressed it on several occasions, including in a piece now online called “5 Things People Get Wrong about Mindfulness,” but it’s helpful to address core questions like this again and again. There is no final answer, no last word on the matter.

The many mindfulness teachers and advocates who encouraged us to start Mindful—and whom we represent in everything we do—believe mindfulness is an inherent human capability that belongs to anyone irrespective of race, creed, gender, you name it. It is our birthright.

What is it exactly?

Since it’s a quality of mind, it’s not easy (or even desirable) to have a single, agreed-upon-by-everybody, one-size-fits-all definition. Mindful’s definition says that 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. Mindfulness also refers to the cultivation of this basic human ability through methods, including meditation, mindful movement, mindful eating, and others. We call this “mindfulness practice” to distinguish it from the basic ability.

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.

Like many meditation teachers, we share the understanding that as our mindfulness is enhanced, it also arouses our connection to others—our kindness and compassion. And we can engage in practices to enhance these qualities as well. Mindful also takes a public health perspective as opposed to a popular self-help approach—thinking in terms of the overall health and well-being of communities, not simply helping a person here or there.

Concerning the question raised at the top—Where does it come from?—we can say the inherent human ability is our evolutionary inheritance, and the practices are our social inheritance, and they come from a variety of sources. The Buddhist tradition is the place where the largest number of explicit mindfulness traditions were practiced, but it seems certain that these practices predated Buddhism and were not necessarily religious in nature. There are similar practices in other traditions throughout the world, and many great Buddhist teachers—East and West—including the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chödrön, Sharon Salzberg, and others have affirmed that mindfulness and compassion can be cultivated outside of Buddhism or any religious context. If practices are helpful to people and increase their well-being, then by all means let’s practice them, from whatever tradition, whatever name they go by. We pay great respect to Buddhism and to all traditions of wisdom, and we also know that to reduce the pain in the world, we need practices that work and that can be practiced in the public square—where no one’s beliefs are given privilege.

We have seen the great benefit mindfulness can do when unleashed in public settings, in high schools in Oregon, in libraries in Los Angeles, in juvenile halls in Oakland, in grade schools in Baltimore, in hospitals in Boston, in hundreds of places. When someone’s life opens up for them, or is even saved, what we call it doesn’t matter much, but if you need a word, mindfulness is as good as any other.

This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of Mindful magazine.
ByAnxious Minds

Alex learns about Mindfulness

“You cheated!” Alex yelled at his brother, Andrew, “you only win because you always cheat!”

“I didn’t cheat, Alex.” Andrew replied, “I won fair and square. You’re a poor sport.”

“I’m never playing with you again!” Alex yelled, “Never!”

“Let’s take a walk,” Lexi said, “I want to show you something.”

As they walked through the woods, Lexi was very quiet.

“What did you want to show me?” Alex asked.

“What do you see right now?” Lexi asked.

“The woods.” He said.

“Yes, but what else?” she said.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Alex answered.

“What are you thinking about right now?”

“I’m thinking about how mad I am at Andrew!”

“While you are thinking about that, you are missing all the beautiful things that I can see at this moment,” Lexi said.

“What do you mean? “Alex said, “What do you see?”

“Did you even notice the baby rabbits hopping in and out of that log as we started our walk?” Lexi asked, “They were so cute!”

“I guess I missed that,” Alex said.

“Did you notice the fluffy white clouds? Or see how beautiful the blue the sky is today?”

“No,” Alex said, “I didn’t notice that either.”

“My point is, while you are staying in an angry moment you are missing things at this moment. Beautiful things that can make you feel happy.”

“I never thought of it that way,” Alex said.

“Let’s look some more.” Lexi said, “Tell me what you see.”

Alex looked around slowly and purposefully.

“Look,” he said pointing to the ground at a big ant hill,

“There must be a million of them. They are all so busy working!”

Alex and Lexi sat watching the ants for quite a while then Lexi said,

“Close your eyes, Alex and tell me what you smell?”

He closed his eyes. “I smell something sweet,” he said, “like a flower.”

“Yes!” she said pointing to a big patch of flowers.

“There are so many beautiful things to see, smell and feel if we just look for them.” She said.

“So Alex,” she said, “when you get angry you can come to this place or imagine all the beauty here, and you can enjoy the beauty at this moment as I do.”

“I will give that a try.” Alex said, “It sounds like a better idea than just staying mad all day.” he said.

Alex and Lexi sat there quietly for a while enjoying watching a green grasshopper as he hopped playfully through the grass. The warm breeze blew gently over them. Alex took a deep breath. Then another.

“I’m ready to go back,” he said, “I’m not angry now.”

Until next time Anxious Minds

 

www.anxiousminds.co.uk

 

 

Alex learns about Mindfulness
ByAnxious Minds

Mindfulness Meditation

Mediation is good for the soul. This is a statement many of us heard before. However, did you know that meditation can be good, even excellent to the body as well? This technique can actually have stunning results after a while of having been practised regularly and could have effects on the immune system.

Recently, more and more studies have proven that meditation, notably in the form of mindfulness, can have an impact on DNA and the immune system. Let us first take a look at what mindfulness exactly is. Mindfulness implies to experience every moment during a given time, to fully embrace what is happening at the level of our thoughts, feelings, sensations in our bodies and what is happening in our environment. The things that happen during those moments should be accepted without judgment. Nothing is right or wrong; we are just tuning in to the present moment and experiencing what it is offering to us. Things should not be put in perspective in comparison to the past, or to what we expect to happen in the future.

At first, mindfulness finds its roots in Buddhism. There, it serves three distinct purposes: knowing the mind, training the mind and freeing the mind. With the usual speed of time in our daily lives, we easily get lost and end up having trouble identifying what is really motivating us, what is the nature of our feelings and reactions. It has become hard to be fully aware of the mechanisms that operate us, deep within. Mindfulness will help us in the process of discovery, as the latter emerges better in stillness. When we stand still, it instantaneously becomes easier to notice what is going on both around us and within us. It becomes clear whether your mind is agitated and thoughts are rushing in at a crazy pace. The difficulty here will be to look at your thoughts without judging them, just taking note of what they are. What emotions are present? What is the mind? What thoughts and beliefs am I experiencing? These are the kind of questions you should be asking yourself when practising mindfulness. When you learn that way, the benefits are doubled. Not only do you know something new, but you also know that you know, you are aware of this newly acquired knowledge. When you are learning just for the sake of knowing, you will not try to change things. You will only see them and notice that they happen.

Still, the mind is something that can be shaped. It is not set in stone, static, but is instead malleable. In that regard, the mind needs to be trained, as if we cannot take responsibility for it, some external forces will. Those can be the media, advertisement and other people, may they want the best or the worst for us. Taking responsibility for your own mind is an important part of the Buddhist practice. So now, how do you train your mind? For many, a good starting point can be found in kindness and compassion. Indeed, when experiencing mindfulness, you will soon find yourself surrounded by conflict in the form of aversion, anger, despair or confusion. Of course, the solution is not to answer with more conflict. As you will have guessed, one of the solutions is to answer with kindness and compassion. Training our minds to be kinder and more forgiving with ourselves will help with being more at ease with how things are. Day after day, what will happen is that we will not try to change the world, to swim desperately against the current anymore but we will accept what is happening. This is the first step in being able to make the best out of our situation. Once your mind is properly trained, you will be more relaxed and take things coming at you more easily. This will trigger more and more success as you will not rush into things with a blind eye anymore. One of the most efficient ways of reaching that stage is to focus on one quality at a time. We can take as examples here courage, ethical virtue, concentration or the capacity to release clinging.

Once the mind is known and has been trained, it is time for it to be freed. All the previous steps are meant to lead to this final one/ knowing your mind will help you realize and accept that you are clinging to certain things in your life, and training your mind will help you release the clinging. Ultimately, when you free your mind, your heart so that there are no barriers left to its freedom. When the heart and the mind are freed, they are at peace. Complete freedom though is hard to reach. A lot of learning and training will be required. The freeing of the mind can only be accomplished by taking small steps, by not rushing in.

To stay that way, the mind will have to be taken care of regularly. The training has to be constant. If you follow these simple steps of mindfulness, you will soon get free of all suffering. Take a deep breath and jump in!

ByAnxious Minds

Mindfulness Meditation and the Immune System

While mindfulness meditation can have tremendous effects on the mind and the heart, it can also greatly influence the body in a physical way. In some cases, the mind really is over worked, and more and more studies are now managing to prove that. For many researchers, the mind could have this wonderful power of affecting health. That being said, the effect can be positive as much as negative.

You probably must have heard about the negative effects the mind can trigger on one’s health, for example through the consequences of chronic stress and anxiety. Indeed, it is now well known that stress can be the cause of sleeping issues – themselves causing a whole lot of new negative physical effects –, digestive problems, muscular trouble and even some forms of cancer in the long run.

Now, what you may not be aware of is that the mind, notably thanks to the processes of positive thinking and mindful meditation, can also cure the body, improve your health when the body is sick.

Recently, a group of Canadian researchers led by Dr. Linda E. Carlson discovered that mindfulness meditation and support groups – in which positive thinking is very often practised and experienced with other patients – are associated with preserved telomere length.

As we dig into scientific terms, let us quickly define what a telomere is (I have to admit here I myself had no idea before I actually did some research for the sake of this article). Well, a telomere is something that prevents the chromosomes from deteriorating, they keep them in a sort of ‘good health’.

They are part of the DNA, stretches of it more exactly, and cap the chromosomes to protect them. If the telomeres happen to shorten prematurely, conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer are very likely to develop. Indeed, scientists had previously discovered that people dying from ‘old age’ were actually dying from the shortening, the wearing down of the telomeres, causing exhaustion of the stem cells.

Let us come back to our main topic now: how can mindfulness meditation can help keeping the telomeres long? How did the scientists find that out? A study was conducted on 88 women who were breast cancer survivors. These women were divided into three groups: one group practising mindfulness meditation and yoga for eight weeks, one group assigned to twelve weeks of group therapy, and one group receiving a six-hour stress management course.

Of course, the telomeres were measured before and after the study. At the end of the project, results showed that while the first group roughly kept the same telomeres length, the latter shortened in the third group. Also, Dr Carlson stated that “generally healthy people I a work-based mindfulness stress reduction program have been shown to produce higher antibody titers to the flu vaccine than controls, and there has been promising work looking at the effect of mindfulness in HIV and diabetes”.

There are several good news in that statement. First you do not need to be sick to experience the benefits of mindfulness meditation physically, on your body. Indeed, what is implied in Dr. Carlson’s statement is that this type of meditation could strengthen the immune system of persons in generally good health. Then, mindfulness meditation could prove to help HIV and diabetes patients in the fight against their illness.

Twenty years ago, a group of scientists from the Department of Medicine at the Ulleval University Hospital in Oslo (Norway) had already managed to prove that mindfulness meditation could be a way to improve the quality of the immune system, especially after the body had been put through a strenuous physical stress.

To conduct their study, they used a panel of twelve males running regularly and taking part in at least one competition over 10 kilometres every year. Half of the group practised meditation, while the other half did not. You may ask now why use men were exercising regularly, as we might assume they are in better health than the average population. Well, intense physical training may actually be responsible for a decrease of the normal immune response when the body is facing infectious agents. As a matter of fact, infection susceptibility tends to be higher among athletes compared to the rest of the population.

The thinking pattern of the researchers was the following: if stress, physical in that case, could be the trigger of a poorer immune response, stress management and reduction, through meditation, could well be the solution to bring the immune system up again.

What mindfulness meditation is actually doing is that it is modifying the response of the immune system when exposed to intense physical stress. In other words, what happens is not that the immune system is brought down after the effort and then brought up again thanks to meditation, but the meditation actually suppresses the decrease of the immune response.

Further studies still need to be conducted in the years to come to confirm these first theories, and the good news is that the scientific community seems to be taking a particular interest in the topic. This is yet another great example of what the mind can achieve when you put it to work. If we become fully able to prevent illnesses or to slow their growth (in the case of HIV for instance) when they are already there then truly, anything is possible.

ByAnxious Minds

Why Mindfulness is so Beneficial to Mental Health

Oxford Dictionaries defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.”

It may surprise you to know that huge companies like Google and Starbucks use mindfulness to maintain their staff welfare, particularly at leadership levels. Google actually created its own mindfulness programme.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that a high number of hospital visits are work stress related and in the U.K. work stress, anxiety and depression accumulated a loss of 11.4 million work days in just one year.
This vast number could be brought down by the use of mindfulness and meditation; scientific tests show that taking time to be in the moment and to focus on peace rather than on the past, present and future at the same time offers huge benefits.

Increased neuroplasticity, this is the neural connection changes in the brain through behaviour and environment changes.

  • You’ll enjoy a more efficient immune system.
  • You’ll have the perspective to view situations as they truly are.
  • You’ll end conflicts more rationally and swiftly.
  • Mindfulness is your brain health tool; you’re in control.
  • Better decision making.
  • You’ll observe or listen without judgement, in the moment.
  • Happiness increases.
  • Enjoyment of work and life grows.
  • You are a better communicator.
  • Improved creativity.
  • More effective working with others.
  • Serenity and clarity of mind.
  • Greater focus and productivity.

Mindfulness is about being fully in the present and giving whatever you are doing at that moment 100% so if you’re meditating then thoughts about the laundry, shopping list or what might happen if you don’t pay the gas bill tomorrow cannot reside in your head. You are in the process of meditation and in the here and now that is all you are concerned with, the rest will have to wait its turn, your brain health is vital. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time so pay it your full attention.

For instant serenity hits try to take a few moments to stop, sit back and focus entirely on your breathing. For each in breath think of your body being positively energised and for each out breath just let go of everything. Another method is to stop, check for points of tension and how you feel and then don’t restart an activity until you are calm and less tense.

There are courses, groups, programmes and online help available, some people need to have a structure to their mindfulness activity to kick it in to action, that’s where meetings help.
We’re striving to make the community mentally healthier and mindfulness is key to achieving this.

ByAnxious Minds

A Touch of Mindfulness

I’m one of the worlds biggest worriers. Often worrying about things I can’t control and worrying about my loved ones as they carry on with their lives without a care in the world. The part of my body that feels these stresses the most is my neck and shoulder area, so I do a lot of yoga to try to counter the pain.

While yoga helps relieve pain and de-stress me for the time I’m doing it, I needed to find a way to relax my mind and my body for as much of the day as I could while just getting on with life. A friend put me on to a meditation class and as part of it the tutor taught us a thing or two about mindfulness.

Now I guess that most of you would have heard of mindfulness before but probably not all of you would have tried it. Just to explain the term: Mindfulness is a form of meditation that you achieve from concentrating on your breath for long enough so that you stop acting on your thoughts. In other words, thoughts come in and out of your mind but you simply observe them from an objective viewpoint. You don’t judge them or plan to do anything about them – you just let them be. So imagine a negative thought coming into your mind, you are able to let it float straight back out as if it were a cloud knowing you can deal with that thought at a later time.

With enough practice – and I’m warning you now it takes a lot of practice – you then learn to be in control of thoughts rather them controlling you and bringing on stress and anxiety.

Let me list some of the benefits mindfulness can give you, once you’ve learned to do it properly.

This list isn’t exhaustive, neither can I vouch for them all as my experience isn’t that vast. But here goes … Mindfulness:

• Decreases stress, depression, anxiety and irritability
• Prevents feelings of exhaustion
• Reduces how emotional you become when in pain
• Reduces pain
• Improves mood
• Improves memory
• Is good for anger management

As I said, these are just a few things, but they’ll do for a start, right?

At this stage, I should say that lots of clinical research have been undertaken over the years into the benefits of mindfulness. If you’re considering giving it a go or taking to mindfulness in a serious way, you might like to do a little research into it yourself. Perhaps find a class as I did.

So now on to my experience of mindfulness. My instructor, who was very knowledgeable and offered his classes for free, led us through some guided meditation. What that means is someone is giving you prompts to get you to a state of relaxation and then to a state of mindfulness.

Firstly, you are guided to look at your breath and concentrate solely on your breathing. In doing that you are guided to relax all parts of your body one by one. If you feel any parts tensing up again, you focus your breath on those parts, and the tension should ease away. The instructor stops talking, you feel completely relaxed, and from here your only concern is the pattern of your breathing. Naturally, thoughts will come into your mind, but in time you learn to allow them to float out again. And that is the start of achieving mindfulness.

One exercise we were given was to try using mindfulness as we go about doing simple day to day tasks. For example, if you’re making your first cup of tea of the morning, instead of thinking about the stack of ironing in the basket, the weeds outgrowing the roses in the garden, the fact that your boss has put you on lates again or whether you’ll get a report out in time at work, you solely concentrate on the process in hand. For example: Fill the kettle and think of nothing else. Put the bag in the cup and push the picture of the linen basket out of your mind – and so on. You get the idea.

I did manage to do this quite well at one stage, and I have to say that I found it calming. I only wish I had carried on. Especially on a week like this when there have been a few upsets around me and, without a coping strategy, I can feel the tension building in my shoulders again. Maybe it’s time to allow a touch of mindfulness back into my life. In fact, we could all do with some couldn’t we?