What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of deliberately paying attention in a particular way in the present moment. It is a form of self-awareness training similar to meditation but is not dependent on any belief or ideology.
It is non-judgemental and open-hearted so that the attitude of mindfulness is gentle curiosity for whatever comes up on a moment by moment basis.
Mindfulness is an awareness that is not thinking, but that is aware of thinking; a stepping back and observing the action of the mind, as well as awareness of each of the other ways we experience the sensory world, i.e. seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling through the body. Mindfulness strengthens the ‘observing’ function, promoting an experience of ‘being in the here and now’ as well as an acceptance of ‘what is’.
Being mindful is the opposite of being absent-minded or on automatic pilot. Mindfulness helps us to step back from the constant thinking and doing and we become free to observe our thoughts without getting caught up with the content of them.
What mindfulness is not:
- Mindfulness is not ‘emptying the mind’
- Mindfulness is not meant to relax you
- Mindfulness in not meant to ‘work’
- Mindfulness is not trying to get you somewhere
- Mindfulness is not meant to make you cheerful
- Mindfulness is not hypnosis
Why Mindfulness Is a Superpower: An Animation by Katy Davis, Narrated by Dan Harris
How Mindfulness Empowers Us: An Animation by Katy Davis, Narrated by Sharon Salzberg
Some Mindful Techniques to try
Find a place where you can sit quietly and undisturbed for a few moments. To begin, you might want to set a timer for about 10 minutes, but after some experience you should not be too concerned about the length of time you spend meditating.
Begin by bringing your attention to the present moment by noticing your breathing. Pay attention to your breath as it enters and then leaves your body. Before long, your mind will begin to wander, pulling you out of the present moment. That's ok. Notice your thoughts and feelings as if you are an outside observer watching what's happening in your brain. Take note, and allow yourself to return to your breathing.
Sometimes you might feel frustrated or bored. That's fine--these are just a few more feelings to notice. Your mind might start to plan an upcoming weekend, or worry about a responsibility. Notice where your thoughts are going, and accept what's happening.
Whenever you are able to, return your concentration to your breathing. Continue this process until your timer rings, or until you are ready to be done.
During the body scan exercise you will pay close attention to physical sensations throughout your body. The goal isn't to change or relax your body, but instead to notice and become more aware of it. Don't worry too much about how long you practice, but do move slowly.
Begin by paying attention to the sensations in your feet. Notice any sensations such as warmth, coolness, pressure, pain, or a breeze moving over your skin. Slowly move up your body—to your calves, thighs, pelvis, stomach, chest, back, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, neck, and finally your head. Spend some time on each of these body parts, just noticing the sensations.
After you travel up your body, begin to move back down, through each body part, until you reach your feet again. Remember: move slowly, and just pay attention.
Choose a food you would like to practice with (preferably something you can hold in your hand without getting messy). Something as simple as a single raisin will work well. Move slowly through these steps, taking a moment to focus on each one.
Before you pick up your food, notice how it looks on the table in front of you. Notice its colour, how the light reflects from its surface, and its size.
Now, pick up the food. Notice the weight, and how the food feels against your skin. Roll the object between your fingers, or roll it in your hand, and notice its texture. Notice if it's smooth, rough, slick, soft, firm or if it has any other properties. Hold the food to your nose, and pay attention to its smell.
Next, place the food in your mouth, on your tongue, but don't eat it. Notice how it feels in your mouth. Does the texture feel the same as on your hand? What do you taste? Roll the food around in your mouth and pay attention to the feeling.
Finally, begin to slowly chew your food. Notice how your teeth sink into it, and how the texture is different inside. Pay close attention to the flavour, and how it spreads across your tongue. Notice how your body changes—does your mouth fill with saliva? Does your tongue feel hot or cold? Continue to chew your food, paying close attention to the many sensations as you finish.
Use this exercise to quickly ground yourself in the present when you only have a moment. The goal is to notice something that you are currently experiencing through each of your senses. It is also a useful distraction technique.
What are 5 things you can see?
Look for things around you. It might be something big or obvious, like a building or item in front of you, or a small detail, like a bird flying past or the pattern on the ceiling or wall. Try and notice things you hadn't noticed before – patterns in the built environment or in nature, light reflecting on different surfaces, movement of trees or grass.
What are 4 things you can feel/touch?
Maybe you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, your shirt resting on your shoulders, or the temperature on your skin. Pick up an object and notice its texture. You might be able to feel the sensation of your clothes on your skin. You might be able to touch something around you – an item of furniture, an object that you have, touching the grass or a leaf outside. Try to focus on the texture and weight of what you can pick up and touch.
What are 3 things you can hear?
Notice all the background sounds you had been filtering out, such as an air-conditioning, birds chirping, or cars on a distant street. Try to focus on the things our minds tend to shut out when we are busy or distracted. The sound of rain, wind blowing, a ticking clock, a train going by or traffic nearby.
What are 2 things you can smell?
Maybe you can smell flowers, coffee, or freshly cut grass. It doesn't have to be a nice smell either: maybe there's an overflowing trash can or sewer. Notice the smells around you - perhaps a smell of cooking, or of perfume or after shave, an air freshener, freshly mowed grass, or the smell after fresh rainfall.
What is 1 thing you can taste?
Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack if you have one, or simply notice how your mouth tastes. "Taste" the air to see how it feels on your tongue. You might have just eaten, or be drinking something, or chewing gum, or have just brushed your teeth. Focus your attention on the flavours you can taste.
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- https://moodle.warwick.ac.uk/enrol/index.php?id=24645 a "mindful library" webpage offering a range of resources
- https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/mindfulness-wellbeing-performance free online course on mindfulness