What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is our awareness of what is happening to us right now through paying attention on purpose to the present moment, experiencing the unfolding moment by moment. Mindfulness training teaches us to understand our emotions a little more, and slowly learn through meditation and using our senses in everyday activities to be aware of all incoming thoughts and feelings and accepting them, but not attaching or reacting to them.
What is Mindfulness Meditation? Does It Work?
The first mindfulness meditation people learn in a mindfulness course is a short breathing meditation to learn the importance of focusing on the breath in grounding oneself in the present moment. There is also body scan meditation, training to bring awareness to different parts of the body with a non-judgemental attitude.
Participants are given meditative advice on how to be aware of thoughts that come up during meditation. A key difference between mindfulness meditation and other meditative techniques is that this meditation does not push away thoughts and is not hypnosis. In mindfulness meditation the person needs to be awake and simply observant of the current state of the body and mind.
The cultivation of day to day awareness, initially through a premeditated practice can eventually become a daily habit, thanks to the neuroplasticity of the brain. The brain is continually reshaping itself based on our experiences, not just by reshaping its firing patterns, but also by rebuilding its architecture. This is known as neuroplasticity.
Mindful Tips to Help Us During this Period and Afterwards
What can we do to help ourselves if we feel overwhelmed by our emotions? Here is some mindful advice from my experience as a mindfulness trainer.
1. Long Term Care
• Routine - Despite having to continue our lives in this possibly new reality we have, can we try to keep a daily routine? Try to have some predictability in this unpredictable time?
• Slow down - Slow down some of your activities in the day to bring more mindful awareness to them e.g. smell your hot drink and feel the warmth of the mug; as you tidy your home, connect to the object/clothes you touch; if you have any plants at home smell them and look at the colours.
• Limit multitasking - Try to attend to your responsibilities one at a time. Writing an email, while the food is cooking on the burner and someone is asking you a question at home, might eventually overwhelm you and result in a burnt dish or snappy reply!
• Alone time - Take some time alone in a part of your home. We might be more people at home with children with no school. Getting in each others’ way can cause tension and some time to ourselves is needed both for us and our kids!
• Outdoor time - Take some time to be outside. Depending on your age and health levels you might be able to go out for a walk in nature in a socially isolated place. Exercise is proven to release “good chemicals” in your body which give you a feel-good factor.
The added element of nature is also very beneficial on our emotional state. If you cannot leave home, maybe you can go on the roof, veranda or open a window and spend some time simply being. Look up at the sky and the clouds. Slow down and listen to the sounds in your street.
• Connect with others - In this time of social isolation, see if you can connect via any means with people you feel comfortable to talk to. If possible, sometimes organise the connection in the form of a short video call to see each other’s faces. Feeling more interconnected with others is another helpful way to enhance our emotional wellbeing.
• Meditate - If interested in mindful meditation, enrol in an online course or read more about it online or through a book. Learning how to shift into the being mode through meditation and other mindful ways of living can be key to our emotional resilience. Download a free meditation app from the internet (e.g. Insight Timer).
• Practice gratitude - We get very fixated on threats and often overlook goodness and beauty. Carry out an intentional practice to celebrate goodness. By that I mean that we actually pause and savour even simple moments in the day that we appreciate.
• Practice mindfulness as a family - Ask others at home with you if they are interested to join you in slowing down at times in the day, while eating, relaxing outdoors or simply when you are talking. So, you both put away your distractions like mobiles and look at each other and enjoy the moment.
• Be mindful of your sleep - Get enough rested time.
2. Mindfulness In a Sudden Time of Stress
Are you are feeling overwhelmed? Anxious, angry, worried? How can you help yourself here and now?
• See if it is possible to slow down and take some mindful deep breathes to ground yourself.
• Check in to your body to notice any sensations e.g. chest tightness, tension in the jaw or shoulders and see if you can imagine directing your breath to this area and connecting to the feeling of letting go and relaxing as you breathe out.
If the situation involves an interaction with another person after the above:
• Listen to the other person.
• Be willing to compromise.
• Understand their values.
• Tend to your own needs, and remember that when you turn down another person’s request, you are turning down the request and not the person.
• Set healthy boundaries, and if you are not in a calm position to reply, postpone any further discussion to when you are calmer.
If you are alone:
• Awareness - Bring awareness to three objects you can see of a specific colour, three things you can hear and three things you can touch (to again get you out of your thoughts and back to the present moment).
• Attention - What makes a thought real is the attention we give it. The thought cannot exist unless you allow it to. Thoughts often seem real. Why? Because of the feeling or sensation that goes with it.
Through living mindfully, one can bring awareness to the inner chatter of the mind, and whilst accepting that they are not perfect, also realise that thoughts are not necessarily facts - even though the pain in our chest or elsewhere in the body is very much there!
• Observe - Bring awareness to the feelings in your body.
• Breathe - Take a few deep breaths. Breathe into and around them.
• Expand - Make room for these feelings. Create some space for them.
• Allow - Allow the feelings to be there. Make peace with them. What we resist persists, and learning to see our lives as an ocean with stormy seas, choppy waves, and calmer moments too, puts our challenges into perspective.
Life is always presenting us with different challenges. It is up to us to decide to wake up to this life and surf it with more emotional awareness!