Mindfulness is originally a meditation technique rooted in Buddhism, but you don't have to be a Buddhist to benefit from using the technique.
Since Jon Kabat Zinn introduced it into healthcare in 1990 with his book, 'Full Catastrophe Living: How to Cope with Stress, Pain and Illness Using Mindfulness Meditation' the practice has found its way into various therapeutic approaches particularly in the field of mental health.
I think I'm too anxious to just meditate!
Although the core activity of this approach is meditation, there are aspects of the whole which can be translated into useful exercises for everyday use in anxiety.
For those who enjoy meditating there are various books and commercially produced cds available by both Jon Kabat Zinn himself and others.
When I planned to use this approach within mental health services I knew I would have to find a way to keep people's attention. The patients who were likely to be invited to attend would also be people who would tend to have Head Conversations about whether they would be able to stay in the room.
So I devised a simple course which introduced the different ways of being mindful in very small, simple steps.
What exactly is being mindful?
As was mentioned in the section on Head Conversations, being mindful is about keeping your mind and body together in the same place.
How often can you catch yourself doing something yet your mind is thinking about something entirely different?
Being mindful is being "in the moment". This is what toddlers do automatically. Whatever they do, their entire focus is on it. They don't do one thing whilst thinking something different. The reason for this is generally because they don't yet use language. Without language it is very difficult to think in any detail.
Once we have learnt to talk we start splitting in this way and doing one thing whilst thinking another. Being mindful is about keeping your mind and body in the same place. The easiest way to do this to begin with is to train yourself to become consciously aware of the input of your senses - aware of what you can feel, see, hear, taste or smell.
You do this without having to commentate on what you are experiencing by attaching words to it. Being mindful is about experiencing the moment as it happens and noticing the experience.
Sounds simple but how do I actually do that? I can't stop thinking!
To understand what I mean by this, imagine you are on a yacht seeing the scene shown in this image.
- You might be aware of the changing colours of the water as it reflects the sky (sense of sight).
- You might feel the gentle rocking movement of the boat in the water (sense of movement).
- You may feel the gentle breeze occasionally as it brushes your cheek (sense of touch).
- You may smell the slight saltiness of sea in the air (sense of smell).
- Maybe you can hear the calls of the seabirds as they search for food (sense of sound)…
But as you are aware of one or more of these, you are not putting words on the experience. You are effectively behaving as a toddler or even your dog, neither of which would put words onto the experience since they don't have language.
To just 'be' in this way is strangely calming simply because your mind and your body are together in the same place as they were designed to be. In doing this you will feel calmer without even having to try...
This practice of putting ourselves totally in the present and just being with whatever is there, non-judgmentally, also serves to teach us that most of the thinking we indulge in is pointless and unhelpful. It introduces the freedom of simply being aware of something but then letting it go on by as the next moment arrives…
How to start learning to be mindful 30 seconds at a time
This approach is for people who have anxiety problems and whose minds have a habit of focusing on scary thoughts quite often. If you are one of these people you will probably find it difficult to keep your concentration on a meditation session taught in the usual way.
The good news is that for general everyday purposes, long meditation sessions are not necessary, although good to do if that's the sort of thing you enjoy.
Being mindful even briefly can be just as beneficial if you develop the habit of simply lapsing into it for 20 - 30 seconds at a time at odd moments during a normal day.
Free downloads to start with
It is not possible to do justice to everything about this topic here just now. By way of introduction to the practice I have recorded three short meditations, which are available as free downloads, (scroll down to Mindfulness Downloads) which briefly describe different ways in which it is possible to be mindfully in the moment.
You can now buy my book which describes the approach I have used to teach mindfulness to those who find it difficult to carry out meditation sessions.
CLICK the image to find out more
There is also more about the technique on the pages about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with which it shares some components.