A brief introduction to mindfulness

by Juliette Wills

Mindfulness has been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety and even pain. What's more, anyone can do it, anywhere. Here's how

If your first thought is that mindfulness sounds a bit ‘hippy’, don’t worry, you don’t need to start chanting, wearing daisy chains and burning incense to get to grips with it. Mindfulness is simply a way of calming your thoughts, appreciating your surroundings and taking a few moments to simply slow down. In time, the benefits can include reduced anxiety and stress and a deeper enjoyment of life.

Mindfulness involves intentionally bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment. In other words, focusing on ‘the now’ rather than thinking about what you’re going to do next or raking over past events.

Proven benefits

Mindfulness is often used in counselling to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. A new study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine suggests an eight-week mindfulness program could improve function and reduce pain in patients with chronic back pain. Not only that, University of Wisconsin studies also showed that its calming effect could help those with stress-related chronic inflammatory conditions as well as anxiety – well, that’s us sold!

‘Our study shows that there are specific ways mindfulness can be beneficial and that there are specific people who may be more likely to benefit from this approach than other interventions,’ explained study leader Melissa Rosenkranz. ‘The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement standard treatment and it can be practised easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need.’

At the end of the day, all you’re doing is focusing on your breathing, and in time, you’ll be able to do this anytime and anywhere, even standing up. Just think, when you’ve got the hang of it you’ll be able to do it on the train, at the bus stop, during meetings (just kidding). Ideally you’ll be sitting or even lying in a comfortable position, but a chair works just fine if that’s your only option.

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How to practice mindfulness

Turn off your phone. Find a relaxed, comfortable position, whether sitting on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. It goes without saying that you should be alone, with no distractions if possible. A curious cat pacing beside you is one thing, rowdy toddlers are another. Keep your back upright, but drop your shoulders so there’s no tension in them. Rest your hands in your lap.

Let yourself relax – any areas where you feel tightness or tension, just note them and do your best to unlock them. Think about the muscles in your shoulders, legs, stomach, and even in your face. Sitting a bit slack-jawed is a good thing in this situation. You want to feel quite floppy, but with your posture holding you upright. Breathe normally, and focus on the rise and fall of your breath. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Try to inhale for three seconds, hold it for two, and exhale for three.

Close your eyes after a few seconds. As you do this, you might find that your mind starts to wander. If you begin thinking about what’s for dinner or when your bus pass needs renewing, that’s perfectly normal, so don’t worry. Just acknowledge it, give yourself a little talking to, such as ‘No more bus pass, just breathing’ and focus back on your breath. It can help to picture the sea – watch the waves coming in, and out again, and time your breath with your thoughts.

Just stay in this position until you feel your tension wash away. It will come, and yes, it takes practice, but doesn’t everything? Mindfulness is extremely helpful at immediately relieving stressful situations.

Lying on the floor with your knees bent is another way to try it, especially if you have back or neck pain. Prop your head on a thin cushion – you want to keep your spine straight. Five minutes of deep breathing like this can relieve a lot of pain. Basically, calming your mind is a great way to calm your body, and a calm body is a less painful body.

A mindfulness app can help

You can even download an app to help make mindfulness a habit. Go to www.headspace.com and take a look at what they have to offer. You’ll soon be doing it on the bus with your headphones in; just make sure you don’t fall asleep and miss your stop!

Why not visit the Arthur’s Place Apps Hub to find our suggestions for Apps that can help.

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