Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation that involves simply being more aware of your own mind and your own thoughts. This type of meditation has been practiced for centuries under a variety of different names – in Christianity for instance it is sometimes called ‘watchfulness’ as described by the Philokalia and many other religious practices also encourage similar concepts. Today it is most commonly recommended as a part of CBT, or ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’. Here it is used to help the individual know their own mind better but also to increase their presence and to detach themselves from stressful thoughts. Here we will look at what mindfulness is, how you can practice it and what the benefits are.
How to Practice Mindfulness
As described in CBT – a popular psychotherapeutic approach used to treat mental health disorders such as phobias – mindfulness involves ‘watching’ the thoughts and then assessing how they might be affecting your mental health.
The idea here is that often our thoughts can lead to negative consequences for our health. An example of this might be a fear of public speaking. Here, someone who suffers from the condition might find themselves ruminating on everything that could go wrong as they approached the podium on which to speak. They might think thoughts such as:
- ‘What if I stutter?’
- ‘What if I don’t know what to say and people laugh at me?’
- ‘What if my flies are undone?’
The idea then is to try and get rid of these thoughts, in order to be better able to focus on the moment without fear. CBT subsequently teaches tools that you can use in order to change those negative thoughts once identified, which often involves intellectualizing the ideas.
But true mindfulness can be used on its own to overcome your anxieties by simply detaching yourself from those thoughts and being more present and in the moment. Instead of letting your thoughts dictate to you how to feel and behave, you simply watch them pass by while staying grounded and present in the moment. By breathing and focusing on your body and your surroundings and by reminding yourself that they are just thoughts you can let go of your fears and worries and just enjoy simply ‘being’. This in turn will result in a calmer state of mind.
The Power of Mindfulness
This ability to disengage from the noisy chatter of our brain is something that has incredible value not only for treating health problems but also for generally helping us to be happier, healthier people.
These days, most of us have a lot of different things that we are worried about and stressed about at any given moment. You might be worried about your finances for instance, you might be worried about your job and you might be thinking about something you read in the paper.
Not only does this affect our mood – even when we are in a relaxed setting – but it also prevents us from fully appreciating the world around us. If you go for a walk for instance and your mind is on works, you won’t get to see the sights and you won’t enjoy the peace and quiet. Using mindfulness then, you can let go of those worries and you can instead just enjoy being in the great outdoors and you can recover from the day.
Mindfulness teaches us how to know ourselves better and how to stop letting our thoughts dictate us.
Using the Body Scan Method
Learning mindfulness is not easy but one strategy you can use is something called the ‘body scan’. This is a sequence that anyone can try and that serves as a great introduction to mindfulness.
As the name suggests, it starts by performing an imaginary ‘scan’ of your body and then widening and narrowing your attention.
To being, lie on a floor or mat but try to go somewhere where you won’t be in danger of falling asleep. Now focus on the top of your head and then move your attention gradually down the body. While you do this, feel each of your muscles relax and let go of any tension you might be holding on to. At the same time, try to notice any feelings in each part of your body as you progress. You might notice the pressure of the ground on your buttocks and back for instance, or you might notice a cool breeze on your skin.
Next, focus on your breathing and just watch it go in and out. Don’t try to control the breathing, just notice it and focus on it.
You might find after a while that your mind starts to wonder onto other things. Unlike other types of meditation though, this doesn’t mean you’re ‘failing’. All you’re going to do is to notice the thought and then refocus on your breathing.
When your thoughts emerge, simply watch them go by like clouds – like any other physical sensation – and then keep relaxing. As you learn to do this, you should find that it helps to you ‘detach’ yourself from those thoughts and prevents them from affecting your emotions. It’s okay to think those things as long as you keep focused on your body and the sensation of breathing.
If you can do this, then you should find that you feel rested and that it provides a break from stress. With practice, you’ll start to find it easier and easier to practice this and eventually you may even be able to practice mindfulness while you go about your daily business.