What exactly is mindfulness?
It is the act of consciously focusing your mind on the present moment without judgment and without attachment to the moment (Linehan, 2015). By becoming aware of what is going on internally and externally we become more present to the “right now”.
Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people experiencing a variety of psychological conditions. Mindfulness practices have been employed to reduce depression, stress and anxiety and in the treatment of drug addiction. Programs based on mindfulness models have been adopted within schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans' centres, and other environments, and mindfulness programs have been applied for additional outcomes such as for healthy ageing, weight management, athletic performance, helping children with special needs, and as an intervention during the perinatal period.
Mindfulness was correctly explained by philosopher, speaker and writer Jiddu Krishnamurti when he said,
"The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence."
Why be mindful?
Mindful practices help us increase our ability to regulate emotions, decrease stress, anxiety and depression and help us focus and observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment. Being present in our lives helps us make better decisions, manage our emotions and be more openly engaged in our life in general.
Clinical studies have documented both physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in different patient categories as well as in healthy adults and children. Research studies have shown a positive relationship between trait mindfulness and psychological health. It even appears to provide therapeutic benefits to people with psychiatric disorders, including moderate benefits to those with psychosis. Studies also indicate that rumination and worry contribute to a variety of mental disorders and that mindfulness-based interventions can reduce both rumination and worry. Further, the practice of mindfulness may be a preventive strategy to halt the development of mental health problems. However, excess mindfulness can produce harmful effects, such as worsening anxiety in people with high levels of self-focus or awareness of their bodies or emotions.
There is also evidence suggesting that mindfulness meditation may influence one’s physical health. For example, the psychological habit of repeatedly dwelling on stressful thoughts can intensify the physiological effects of the stressor with the potential to lead to physical health-related clinical manifestations. Further, research indicates that mindfulness may favourably influence the immune system as well as inflammation, which can consequently impact physical health, especially considering that inflammation has been linked to the development of several chronic health conditions and lowering the risk of developing conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
How does mindfulness work?
Some experts believe that mindfulness works, in part, by helping people accept their experiences—including painful emotions—rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance.
It’s becoming increasingly common for mindfulness meditation to be combined with psychotherapy, especially cognitive-behavioural therapy. This development makes good sense since both meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy share the common goal of helping people gain perspective on irrational, maladaptive, and self-defeating thoughts.
How can one be mindful?
Let us analyze this by first considering what one usually does that is considered as mindfulness.
“What” is what we actually do while practising mindfulness.
The first skill is to Observe– we can observe internally or externally. This is just noticing what we may see, hear etc., or what we are feeling, thinking or noticing within ourselves.
The second skill is to describe what we see or experience without judgment. For example, if looking at a picture you can just describe exactly what you see. Not if you like it or not, just the appearance.
The third skill is to Participate which means fully throwing oneself into the experience. For example, when you’re dancing, you would allow yourself to fully dance while letting go of inhibition or judgment or feelings of self-consciousness.
Types Of Mindfulness Techniques
There is more than one way of practising mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment. All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation.
Basic mindfulness meditation – This includes sitting quietly and focussing on your natural breathing or on a “mantra” that you repeat silently. One needs to allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return their focus on their breath or on the mantra.
Body sensations – This technique includes noticing subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and letting them pass and noticing each part of the body in succession from head to toe.
Sensory techniques – This includes noticing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches and naming them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and then letting them go.
Emotional Techniques – These techniques allow emotions to be present without judgment. They include practising a steady and relaxed naming of emotions like “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.” and accepting their presence without judgment to let them go.
Urge surfing – This includes coping with cravings (generally for addictive substances or behaviours) and allowing them to pass while noticing how one’s body feels as the cravings enter. One is supposed to replace the wish for the craving with the certain knowledge that it will subside.
What are some examples of mindfulness exercises?
There are many simple ways to include mindfulness in your daily lives, following are some of them:
Pay attention. It's hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favourite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it.
Live in the moment. Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.
Accept yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.
Focus on your breathing. When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes and try to focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help too.
Few structured mindfulness exercises that you can practise are:
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.
Sitting meditation. Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If physical sensations or thoughts interrupt your meditation, note the experience and then return your focus to your breath.
Walking meditation. Find a quiet place 10 to 20 feet in length, and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing and the subtle movements that keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn and continue walking, maintaining awareness of your sensations.
When and how often should One practise mindfulness exercises?
It depends on what kind of mindfulness exercise you plan to do. Simple mindfulness exercises can be practised anywhere and anytime. Research indicates that engaging your senses outdoors is especially beneficial.
For more structured mindfulness exercises, such as body scan meditation or sitting meditation, you'll need to set aside time when you can be in a quiet place without distractions or interruptions. You might choose to practice this type of exercise early in the morning before you begin your daily routine.
Aim to practice mindfulness every day for about six months. Over time, you might find that mindfulness becomes effortless. Think of it as a commitment to reconnecting with and nurturing yourself.
We hope that now you know the value Mindful Meditation can bring into your lives, and how many problems it can solve. It is the simplest practice you can adopt to bring peace and calm to your life.
Content Head, Manas