Introduction to mindfulness

One’s life is full of challenges and stresses, which play essential role in evolution of our skills, strengths and qualities and sadly can drive us into mental and physical exhaustion at the same time. The truth is that emotional reaction to losing a teddy bear by a child can feel as extreme and traumatic to that child as the trauma of someone losing their loved one. We do all FEEL, and intensity of the feeling does not necessarily depend on the severity of the observed and commonly accepted reality. It is natural and very important to feel the whole spectrum of emotions to learn and adapt in any given situation, and it’s only when emotions get lost in translation, misunderstood, misplaced and misused that we might experience negative consequences.

Ability to effectively adapt to any situation, appropriately appraise and channel emotional energy depends on the level of awareness of the internal processes including one’s thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, and mindfulness can be one of the fundamental qualities of life to provide that. The key quality which helps to stay aware of your emotional reactions and shape those into a conscious response is based on mindful assessment of the situation.

Fortunately, there has been enough psychological research in the most recent years to suggest that our brain is very malleable across the whole lifespan and any skill can be practiced to become one of the strengths. Practicing mindfulness is very simple and enormously profound for a healthy emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Understanding Mindfulness

Mindfulness is about focusing your attention on whatever is happening moment by moment without judging or trying to change it in any way. Practising mindfulness is very simple and fun. In mindfulness meditation, you actively choose to control where your mind goes. For example, you can choose to pay attention to your breath or the sounds around you. While that seems fairly simple, once you actually try it you’ll discover that your attention easily wanders. There are plenty of things including our own thoughts which constantly demand our attention without us being even aware of it happening.

However, it’s worth battling that because practicing the regulation of attention ultimately helps you to live more in the present moment, and reduces our tendency to worry about the past or future thus spending time where you can’t help or change anything anyway. This is hugely important because these tendencies are the root cause of much anxiety.

Each time you gently and non-judgmentally notice your attention wandering and actively bring it back to the object of your practice, you are strengthening your mindfulness muscle. This is why it’s called a practice; mindfulness, like all skills, is something you develop over time and ready to use it when you need it most. When you are getting ready to run a marathon you don’t train 5 minutes before it actually happens, do you? Similarly, using breathing and other calming techniques when you feel overwhelmed is great but can be more efficient when you are prepared and your mind is fit for it. However, by practicing mindfulness regularly you might notice that your general anxiety level will not be as intense any way and feel more able to handle any stressful situation with a present mind.

I find these two practices being most efficient before lunch or before I go to sleep:

A mindful moment
Designate something as a signal for you to take a mindful moment, such as getting a text message or stopping at a light on the way to school.

The idea is to bring mindful attention to ordinary activities and just focus and observe. Briefly shine the spotlight of your attention on your breathing body, by first taking a moment to observe yourself inhale and exhale a couple of breaths. Don’t worry about changing your breathing in any way – the point is to simply notice it.

Next, take a moment to scan your body to see if you are holding any tension anywhere. If you are, try to send your next breath to that part of your body to release it. You can do this by imagining the breath entering your body and travelling to the place of tension, and then back out again on the exhale.

Before you conclude the practice, you might want to take a quick moment to give yourself a bit of encouragement: “I’ve got this, I’m going to take it moment by moment.” Or set an intention for bringing the mindful attention you just cultivated with you into the rest of your day: “I’m going to try my best to be present today.” Informal mindfulness is very handy – it’s when you are at your busiest that you need mindfulness most.

Mindfulness of breath
This is the formal meditation practice most people start with when they are first learning. It can be done for anywhere from five to 30 minutes or more. I suggest that you start with a short period of time and slowly spend longer as you get better. I like doing this first thing in the morning or before I go to bed.

Find a quiet spot, sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. It really doesn’t matter where you are when you practice as long as you can sit, stand or lie down without being interrupted for the duration. Imagine your attention is a spotlight that you can actively shine on whatever you choose to observe.

Once you are settled, direct this spotlight on your breathing. Observe the sensation of breath wherever you notice it: the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen, or the air entering and exiting your mouth or nostrils. Without trying to change it in any way, simply notice the inhale/exhale cycles that occur. When you find that your attention has wandered, gently redirect the spotlight back to your breath.

One technique you might want to try as you’re learning to meditate, is counting your breaths. This will help you quiet your thinking mind by giving it a task to complete. After your first out breath, silently count one, and then after the next inhale and exhale, count two and so on, until you reach 10. If you become distracted at any point, gently refocus your spotlight back on to your breath and begin again with one.

When you’re ready to conclude your practice it’s a good idea to take a moment to acknowledge the time you have just spent cultivating calm and attention. You might try ending with a silent affirmation and intention such as, “I am peaceful and calm. Let me bring this into my life.”

Try doing these practices daily and you’ll soon reap the benefits of mindfulness meditation in all areas of your life.