“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
I’m interested in this. As a principle, a technique, it’s very attractive. A non drug based treatment for anxiety / stress management and an uncomplicated process to follow, with the ultimate result of improving well being, Supporting calmness.
I have used these techniques before. During a period of acute anxiety back in 2014, when I could barely function, I found the concentration on immediate physical symptoms; the feel of the sheets on my skin, the hardness of the chair on the back of my legs, the feel of wind in my hair or the smell of coffee for example, both soothing and grounding. But back then I used the techniques purely to lessen my anxiety rather than to promote well-being.
I attended an awayday about 18 months ago, in which there was a short seminar about mindfulness in the consultation, and how it might be useful for some of our patients. In a group setting, an experienced, serene woman guided us though some simple techniques. I was as impressed by her stillness, self possession and gentle unhurried demeanour as by what she imparted. Perhaps, I remember thinking, if I were more mindful, I too would be less harassed, calmer, more poised and tranquil.
The key message from the seminar was this: Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. “It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says.
“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.
“Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.
“It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
So how do we practice mindfulness?
- Set aside some time. You can practice anywhere, at anytime. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space, ideally without obvious distractions like the TV / radio / computer
- Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm (at least that’s what they say, I think this IS in fact the longer term, overall desired effect…) In the moment however, the goal is simple: you are aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement. Its sounds easy, but actually I find this hard.
- Let your thoughts roll by. When we notice thoughts arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
- Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge or critisise yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognising when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
- Feel your breath. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest.
- Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results should (!)accrue.
A growing body of evidence has found that when people intentionally practice being mindful they feel less stressed, anxious and depressed, with the UK Government’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommending mindfulness based therapies for the treatment of recurrent depression. Research also shows positive effects on several aspects of whole-person health, including the mind, the brain, the body, and behaviour, as well as a person’s relationships with others.
So, I’ve been toying with the idea of adding ‘Do 5 minutes mindfulness a day’ to my New Year resolutions list. I can’t see any reason NOT to do it, It can’t hurt me, and it might help.
I took this On line stress test on a mindfulness website. Rather alarmingly I scored 30/34. A (validated) burnout test for doctors put me at ‘high risk’ of burn out, and that was when I was on holiday. Much of the stress in my life I’m not able to alter, so perhaps I need to alter my response to it.
I’ll let you know how I get on….