Have you ever found that after a busy day, you get into bed, feeling exhausted from living in this fast paced, high tech, crazy world, ready to sleep and then…. you’re wide awake with a head full of thoughts about the past or the future, spinning around like a fast spin on a washing machine and with a tense body, you are unable to sleep?
Many people do, but not just at bed time; during much of our day too, as we tune into the often unhelpful chattering in our mind and tune out of the reality of our present moment. We could then end up feeling overwhelmed by life, impatient, emotionally reactive, fed up, exhausted, irritable, unhappy, anxious, maybe emotionally numb to the world, spaced out, frazzled and we often worry a lot too.
Practising Mindfulness Can Help
Here are 8 Useful Facts about Mindfulness, that will help you to understand what Mindfulness is and start to practise right now.
FACT ONE : The Definition of Mindfulness. There are loads of them and that’s because it’s hard to put into words. Mindfulness is an experience, so it’s best to try it for a while to see for yourself what it is. For now though, here’s just one of the definitions that we at Present Mind like.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present to what is going on in our lives, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, without judging it, wanting it to be different or feeling overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness enables us to tune into the reality of the present moment, rather than re-living the past or worrying about the future.
FACT TWO : The Benefits of Mindfulness. It’s best not to focus too much on the benefits of Mindfulness because we don’t want to start having great expectations of yet more goals and results to strive for – that’s not the point.
However, of course we are interested in what the potential benefits or by-products might be because this can act as a great motivator to encourage us to practice in the first place, so here’s a list of some of the benefits that I’ve noticed from my own practice and also those reported from others who have attended the Present Mind courses:
- spend less time worrying about what might happen in the future and dwelling on events from the past
- feel calmer, especially during challenging situations, so more able to respond calmly compared to reacting emotionally
- clearer and more focussed thinking which is really good for completing tasks
- feel more connected and kinder towards other people and yourself
- feel less judgmental and critical towards other people
- become more comfortable and familiar feeling emotions especially those unpleasant ones so that we’re less upset by them
- enjoy the many pleasures in life, because it’s easier to notice them
- better sleep
- more accepting of life as it is and feel happier and more content as a result
- better able to manage pain and physical symptoms
- feel generally more confident and emotionally resilient
FACT THREE : Thinking is great, but its amazing how much of it can result in us feeling upset. There are roughly 60,000 thoughts trundling through our minds each day and for some of us, as many as 70% of those thoughts are either repeated thoughts, untrue or unhelpful ones. If we spend the majority of our time “lost in thought” and many of us do, we end up engaging in and believing a huge number of unhelpful thoughts that will result us feeling disconnected from reality and, at the very least a bit fed up!
- Mindfulness practice will help you to begin to recognise when you start to engage in and believe those thought patterns and stories that are unhelpful and to tune into the present moment instead, so that you spend less time winding yourself up and more time accepting life as it is, by living in the present moment.
- Mindfulness practice is not about getting rid of your thoughts – this is a common myth , but it’s about changing your relationship with your thoughts, so you identify less with them and instead learn to become the observer of them.
FACT FOUR : Mindfulness helps us to come to our senses. In order to spend more time living our lives in the calm, being mode, we need to start to intentionally practice and we can use all of our available senses to begin cultivating present moment awareness.
We can only experience our lives through our bodily senses, so informal practice is when we use our available senses to wake up to our reality at any moment during the day. So, right now you could practice the following informal mindfulness techniques, each time noticing when your mind wanders off, most likely back to thoughts and simply direct your awareness back again to the bodily senses that are available to you:
- Sight – take a pause right now and just look around you. Notice different colours, shapes, objects, shadows, reflections etc and see if you can use your sight as an anchor to be present.
- Smell – A slightly subtler anchor unless there is an obvious smell in the air, so just focus your awareness on your sense of smell as you breathe in.
- Sound – using your sense of hearing, just sit for a few moments and listen. Notice different tones and volumes of sounds around you.
- Taste – take your attention now to your mouth and your sense of taste. Perhaps you’ve just eaten something and you can taste it in your mouth or maybe you can have a cup of tea with you and you can pay attention to the taste of the tea.
- Touch – our bodies are always in contact with something, such as a chair if we’re sitting down, the ground if we’re walking, the bed if we’re lying down, so turn your attention to the sense of contact that the body is making.
FACT FIVE : Mindfulness can be practised informally at any moment during our waking lives. Mindfulness practice tunes our awareness to our senses, so that we can spend more time actually living our lives rather than thinking about our lives and this can be practiced at any time, anywhere.
Many of us are so well practiced at living much of our lives on “autopilot” and it can be really helpful to choose a few activities that you carry out on autopilot and then set some intentions and triggers to remind yourself to wake up and be present. The following daily activities are just a few of the commonly identified activities used by people to practice informal mindfulness, using their senses to know that they are carrying out the activity, rather than being lost in thought:
- Driving your car – people commonly say that they arrive at their destination with little awareness of even driving. Notice the contact of your body on the seat, notice if you’re gripping the steering wheel and feeling tense and soften the body instead, listen to sounds and observe other cars and your surroundings as you drive.
- Cleaning your teeth – taste the toothpaste, feel the brush on your teeth and gums, listen to the sound of brushing.
- Having a shower – using all of your senses to experience having a shower; feeling the warmth and pressure of the water on your skin, listening to the sound of the shower, smelling the products etc
- Drinking a warm drink (or any drink!) – taste the drink, smell it, feel the warmth of the mug on your hands, feel the sensations of swallowing.
- Walking – if you are fortunate enough to be able to walk, see if you can choose a time when you walk each day; perhaps up and down the stairs, to and from work meetings, taking the dog out for a walk, going to the shops etc. See if you can spend some of the time walking mindfully; feeling the body moving, the feet on the floor, the arms swinging etc. Notice when the mind wanders away from the present moment of the body moving, back off into thoughts (as it will and this is ok) and bring your attention back again to the sensations of the body moving.
FACT SIX : Mindfulness can be practised formally too. This is where we do actually need to find a short period of time each day, if possible, to sit quietly with ourselves, becoming familiar with the activity of our minds. This awareness will give us the choices that are so valuable to gain control and “train” the mind to settle on a chosen anchor in our present moment.
Formal practice is a bit like doing a more intense “gym workout” for the mindfulness muscle. At Present Mind, we encourage students to initially sit for around ten minutes if possible each day and listen to a guided practice to help them to focus. Using a Mindfulness App to support them can be really useful, such as the practices available to download for free on our Present Mind Mindfulness App.
There are a range of different anchors that you can choose to use, to return your attention when your mind wanders off probably back into thoughts, and these include for example, the anchor of sounds, the body, movement and even thoughts themselves. But the most commonly used anchor is the breath. The breath is quite remarkable and a useful anchor for the following reasons:
- It’s always with us whilst we are alive.
- We don’t have to remember to breathe – therefore this is one thing that we don’t need to control.
- The breath is a great emotional barometer, so if we feel anxious our breath will feel tight, rapid and shallow in the chest rather than softer, slower and deeper in the tummy when we feel calm. This gives us insight into our emotions and we can learn to use the breath as a great way to help calm the body and the mind.
- The breath provides a gentle rise and fall movement on which to focus our attention.
- The breath can only be felt in the present moment, so any breath that you notice means that you’re attention is here in the present moment.
So, all in all a pretty useful anchor to use and one that we often refer to as forming the backbone to mindfulness practice and you can practice right now using this free eleven minute Mindfulness of Body and Breath guided practice.
FACT SEVEN : Your body and mind is intimately connected and it’s not just your internal world of thoughts that you become familiar with when you practice Mindfulness, but also your internal world of emotions and feelings that as human beings we all experience in our bodies. Emotions are a natural part of being a human being and they are there to be experienced and felt in the body, not analysed and thought about.
Instead of pushing unpleasant feelings away or feeling overwhelmed by them, as many of us do, we can learn to become comfortable and familiar with emotions and this helps us to become more emotionally resilient and manage life’s inevitable challenges more easily. Mindfulness Practice can help you to:
- Feel emotions for what they are, as simply bodily sensations, such as a tightness in the chest or heaviness in the tummy etc
- Name the emotion with curiosity – “ahh there’s sadness”, or “here’s anxiety”
- Accept emotions as best you can, as they arise. Practice gently being with emotions rather than judging them, ignoring them or pushing them away, so that they can flow naturally through the body. Of course, this takes practice and we can begin to notice and accept emotions that are not too intense at first.
- Notice when the mind wanders off into thoughts about the emotion, usually how awful it is and wanting it to go away and instead, leave the thoughts alone (they just fuel the emotion!) and return to feeling the physical sensations once again.
FACT EIGHT : Mindfulness Practice is called a practice because unless you practice, you are unlikely to benefit at all.
This final fact is probably the most important one. Research (link to research on website) has shown that practising mindfulness actually rewires the brain and changes it’s structure and function to enable the many positive changes as listed above to take place. So, whilst reading about Mindfulness is really great – I’ve read numerous books about the subject – we actually need to engage in the experience of practice just like learning any new skill such as how to swim. We need to dip our toe in the water and learn through practice and experience how to swim and Mindfulness is no different.
Download our free Present Mind Mindfulness App, to practice a wide range of different guided sessions or have a look on our website to see if there are any Mindfulness courses that you might like to register on.