15 May 2018
Mindfulness…You’ve probably heard about it before, but before you skim right past, this is not just some hippie, hyper-spiritual fad. Mindfulness may have gained a rep for being a bit airy-fairy or irrelevant to our contemporary society, particularly if one does not personally subscribe to its spiritual roots which lie in Bhuddist tradition. However, on closer look, mindfulness has something useful to offer everyone.
What is mindfulness?
Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Mindfulness-Integrated Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Institute, Bruno Cayoun, describes mindfulness as
“A heightened sensory awareness of the present moment experience, free from self-referential judgment, identification with the experience and reactivity.”
He elaborates that “training in mindfulness meditation requires deliberate sustained attention to sensory and cognitive processes with unconditional acceptance of the experience.”
Essentially, by adopting the calm, detached and non-judgmental mental state that mindfulness describes, one can experience sensations that arise in the body as they actually are, not as how our thoughts and feelings make them out to be.
Confused? Let me give you an example
You may recall a time in your life where you experienced intense feelings of sadness. Whenever you felt that sadness, it may have been tied up in thoughts such as ‘when will this feeling ever go away?’, ‘I hate feeling like this’, ‘why do I have to feel like this’ and so on.
While the actual feeling of sadness itself may be experienced in your body as a heaviness in your shoulders or a denseness in your stomach, being caught up in these thoughts about the feeling take us away from how the emotion of sadness actually feels, and therefore intensifies how distressing the sadness is.
Instead of understanding what sadness feels like in our body, we are caught up in thoughts of how painful it is, how it feels like it will never end and so on. In a sense, the theory of mindfulness says that being caught up in these thoughts instead of accepting the sensations we feel in our body when we are sad can make the sadness all the more painful.
How does mindfulness measure up?
The evidence linking mindfulness-based programs to positive psychological health benefits is substantial and only continuing to grow. Most recently, people who have undertaken programs which have integrated mindfulness based strategies within a framework which focuses on thoughts, feelings and behaviours (known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) have reported greater pain tolerance to chronic pain. These programs have also been shown effective for people who suffer with anxiety, routine stress, depression and even cancer!
So how do I do it?
An easy way to get started is by using a guided mindfulness meditation program.
There are a few handy apps out there which make this really easy, such as the Smiling Mind App or the Headspace App. These were both designed by psychologists and educators and have a simple easy-to-use interface.
If you’re not the tech type, however, starting your journey in mindfulness is as easy as focusing on your breath. Start with just 10 minutes a day- focusing on your breath, the in breath, the out breath, the sensations that arise in your body as you breathe.
It could be as you’re hanging out the laundry, as you’re on your way to work, or just taking some quiet moments at the end of your day. As you focus on your breath, scan through your body and notice any sensations that you can feel arise in your body. Perhaps these are linked to an emotion and would normally lead you into contemplation, but this time, try simply noticing the sensations in your body, what they actually feel like. If you notice any thoughts about them coming up, just let them go. Try to maintain an attitude of acceptance towards whatever the sensation is, a welcoming attitude, allowing it to be here with you.
It may sound strange or feel unnatural at first, but I’ll bet you’re at least curious. 10 minutes a day to do something that has potentially life changing benefits for your health – it starts as simply as that. Give it a try and see what happens.