There’s a lot of talk these days about mindfulness, but there isn’t always a whole lot of clarity about what exactly it means, or how someone who’s new to mindfulness can start to integrate it into their life.
Perhaps the first thing to say, mindfulness for beginners if you like, is that mindfulness is something that we can all already do- we just need to nourish that ability, and strengthen the ‘muscle’. Mindfulness is simply being fully aware of what we are doing or where we are, rather than being so caught up in thinking about the past and future, that we’re almost sleepwalking through our lives.
When we are mindful we are better able to deal with stress and pressure, or whatever happens to us during the day, without over-reacting or feeling overwhelmed.
We can encourage and develop this mindful awareness through some simple exercises. Here’s a few to start you off:
We all breathe, obviously, but generally don’t take the time to actually notice our breath, or that we may be breathing quite shallowly, if we’re feeling anxious. This exercise requires you to be very conscious about your breath and is a good way of calming down.
Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and keep it there throughout. Then start by exhaling completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound. Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose while you count four. Hold your breath while you count seven. Then exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound again for a count of eight. It may take some practice to take a big enough breath!
Do this cycle four times, then let your breathing return to normal.
Lying down works best, but you could also do this sitting in a chair. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax. Then breathe normally. Starting at your toes bring your attention to each part of your body in turn, spending a little while mentally in your feet, your calves, your thighs and so on. Become aware of any sensations. For example, tightness, pressure, tingling, a sensation of hot or cold. You don’t need to try and let go of any tension, just notice it. Often simply noticing any tension will help it release, but that isn’t the aim.
When your mind drifts off (it will) that’s fine, just come back to awareness and carry on. If you do this regularly you will become more connected with your physical self, and more mindful in general.
Observing the monkey mind
Mindfulness is not about emptying your mind (good luck with that!), but about observing your thoughts and coming to see that we have a deeper, calmer consciousness, which is separate from these thoughts. Take a few minutes to just sit and notice the chatter in your mind. This chatter is sometimes known as ‘the monkey mind’. Don’t engage with the thoughts, or try to banish them, just notice them, and let them pass through. Some people find it helps to say ‘monkey monkey’ as soon as you notice the thoughts. If you find yourself judging the thoughts or yourself for having them, just smile and let that thought pass through too.