If you thought meditation was just about shaven headed monks sitting cross legged with incense wafting about, you would be wrong. Sure, you can sit cross legged and burn incense if you wish, (I often do) but mindfulness meditation is more than this.
Mindfulness meditation was developed by Jon Kabut-Zinn in the late 1970’s. With its roots in the ancient art of meditation (as practised by shaven headed monks), he took it a step further, teaching people how to access their own internal resources for balance and healing through the cultivation of moment by moment awareness.
Being mindful is about being present in the moment, without judgement, in the here and now. You might think this is easy, but you would be wrong. To illustrate, try this. Sit with your eyes closed just focusing on the present moment. Just allow the thoughts to be there and just be aware of them. What do you notice? Well most probably you will find that your mind leaps continuously from thought to thought, from the comment somebody said earlier today, to what you need to buy at the shops. A constant mix of past and future thoughts, worries and concerns…it is no wonder most of us feel stressed.
Learning to let go of the past and not get caught up in the future can really help.
The key to mindfulness is to learn to simply watch the thoughts that drift in to your mind. Like clouds in the sky, acknowledge them without getting caught up or entering a dialogue with them, then let them pass away as you would clouds in the sky. Another way of looking at this is to imagine the thoughts were adverts on a radio between songs or on television between programmes. Just leave them to play without buying into them.
Mindfulness meditation does take regular practice to really master. But it is a whole lot easier than learning a musical instrument or learning how to dance.No chords to learn or partners needed. Just incense and the ability to sit cross legged, no seriously. Just a few minutes each day or when you have time and you will soon notice the benefits.
Mindfulness practice is really worthwhile and has many health benefits including: Lasting decreases in both physiological and psychological arousal. increased ability to relax, greater energy and enthusiasm for life, improved self esteem, improved relationships, more creative capacity to cope with stress and improved concentration.
Here is a good mindfulness technique to get you started. It is known as mindfulness breathing. Remember the aim of this exercise is to cultivate a state of calm, non-judgemental awareness. Simply allow thoughts and feelings to come and go, bringing your awareness back to the rise and fall of your tummy as breath comes in and out. Initially you may have to consciously bring your awareness back to the breath many times. This is fine, even those who very experienced at meditation might have days when they find letting go a struggle. Being aware of getting caught up in your thoughts and then letting them go, is absolutely fine and shows that you are doing it just right.
Letting go with mindful breathing.
Find yourself somewhere quiet to sit, where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing.
Focus your mind on your tummy and imagine that you have a balloon in your tummy. Become aware of the gentle in and out as you inhale and exhale. You might find that placing a hand on your tummy helps if you have difficulty feeling the movement.
Notice the sensations as your tummy inflates and deflates. Your tummy getting larger as the imaginary balloon inflates and smaller as it deflates.
Allow thoughts to come into your mind, that is fine, because that is perfectly normal. Simply notice them with a sort of mildly interested curiousness. Say to yourself, “they are not important” then simply let them drift away as other thoughts take their place.
Now just bring your attention back to your breathing.
Likewise, you may notice feelings, emotions, images or hear sounds near or far. Just notice them, then let them go. Notice how your body relaxes. Then bring your attention gently back to your breathing.
With all thoughts, feelings or whatever, don’t judge them, try not to get caught up with them. It’s OK for them to come and go. Just notice them and let them drift away.
Whenever you notice yourself and your attention getting caught up with them, just gently bring your attention back to your breathing. No matter how many times it happens, just bring your attention back to your breathing.
Try this for two minutes at first, then five minutes and then gradually increase the time as you become more proficient. This is the art of mindfulness meditation. If you do no more than master this technique you will notice huge benefits to your life.
A good book on mindfulness meditation is: “Full catastrophe living; How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation” by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist