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A Guide to Mindfulness Banner

One of our Outreach Assistants, Jade, is passionate about mindfulness and sharing her expertise with others. Here's Jade's guide to Mindfulness, plus some audio guides and useful articles.

 

What is mindfulness?

Some may believe mindfulness to be about thinking, however, it’s more than that...

Being mindful is a way of using all our senses to achieve awareness of our experiences; to be able to live in the present moment. It’s gaining the ability to let go of wandering thoughts, of judgment, and ease pain. Mindfulness is often linked with Meditation practise as their motives are the same. What's the difference then? Mindfulness is something you can apply in any situation, whereas Meditation is a more structured practice for a specific amount of time often with a focus such as breath. Other than that, they are very similar and aim to achieve the same outcome: presence.

If this topic has sparked an interest, please read on to explore a deeper understanding and find tips on how you can improve your mindfulness.

 

Being on Autopilot

Have you ever traveled somewhere and once you’ve got there you think “how did I even get here?” or opened the fridge door and forgot what you were looking for? - maybe that one’s just me :) This is autopilot. If we can do simple tasks automatically, doesn’t that mean we can be more efficient? - yes, but it also has its drawbacks. When on autopilot, we react in habitual ways. If prone to anxiety, say, when we’re on autopilot our mind will have anxious thoughts and we won’t notice. This means that once we come back to awareness, we find ourselves feeling really anxious and we don’t know why.

Mindful Tip: Practice mindful actions. Choose one action which you can do mindfully each day such as brushing your teeth, drinking a cup of tea, or even putting on your socks. Use your senses to pay attention to the sensations you're experiencing.

 

Learning to choose

Mindfulness allows us to choose, not what happens to us but how we respond to what happens. We call our direct experiences primary and our reactions secondary. What mindfulness can do is help to distinguish the primary and secondary so that we can simply be with the primary experience and stop ourselves from having to endure the escalation of thoughts, emotions, and judgments that come with being in secondary mode.

Habitual reaction: I woke up late for school. Stupid phone alarm. Why does it never go off? I am going to get detention if I don’t hurry up. WHERE IS MY BAG! My shirt needs ironing. I’m so stupid, why didn’t i get everything ready the night before like I know I should? *hits arm on door handle* ahhhhhhhhhh. Mum hurry with my shirt, you’re going to make me late. I can’t get another detention. etc...

Mindful response: I woke up late for school.

Mindful tip: When you find time in your day, just before you go to bed for example, write down your thoughts and feelings. You can do this in a journal, on your notes in your phone or even say them out loud. Step 1) what happened? Step 2) what were you feeling/thinking in this situation? Step 3) what was good/bad about the situation? Step 4) What sense can you make of the situation? Step 5) What else could you have done to improve the situation? Step 6) what's your action plan based on the above?

Article: Mindful Journaling: how to start and keep coming back

 

Coming to your senses

A useful distinction that we make in mindfulness practice is between doing and being modes of mind. In doing mode we are striving to achieve a set goal, and are more likely to feel unsatisfied with the way things are so we try to fix them. It is a very future-orientated mindset. Being mode on the other hand, is focused on the present moment. When in doing mode, adrenaline is released and in being mode dopamine is released. Staying in either of these modes for too long can cause individual harm: anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and addiction to name a few. Mindfulness allows us to recognise when we need to be in being mode and when we need to be in doing mode, and help to balance the two.

Mindful Tip: 10 minutes of mindful breathing a day gives yourself permission to check-in and see how you’re feeling. Find a meditation audio/video that you like and experiment with positions to find what works for you. If you’re a first-timer to meditation, it may seem strange or even frustrating at first but let’s stay in the primary. There is no wrong way to meditate. If you notice your mind wandering, bring it back, and focus on your breathing. 

Audio Clip: 10 Minute Body Scan

Article: 5 Easy Guided Meditations

Working with thoughts

Mindfulness aims to help us notice thoughts that appear and see them as events that come and go. Imagine you’re on a bridge and below there is a train passing through - each wagon representing an added thought. We can choose whether we jump on to the train of thoughts and let it carry us away, or to stay on the bridge and watch the thoughts come into view then leave in the distance. Another way of putting this is that when we have a thought we believe what it is telling us and we then look at the world from the view point of this thought: we’re jumping from the bridge into the wagon. Example: I don’t have time to revise at home - you will believe this and stop revising, even though a couple of minutes ago you thought you did have time, otherwise you wouldn’t have got your books out to do it. Our thoughts are not necessarily facts - even those that say they are!

Mindful Tip: Try out some listening to sounds meditation to practise working with thoughts and distractions. You can also use this when you’re out and about, by closing your eyes and just listening to the sounds around you. Notice your thoughts then bring the mind back to your anchor. An anchor being something to help you center your meditation e.g. breath. 

Audio Clip: Breathing Meditation

 

Noticing the good things

We spend time in doing mode in order to achieve and improve, and what spurs us to do this is dwelling on negative events or experiences. There is an evolutionary reason for this. Our cave-dwelling ancestors were vulnerable to attack by predators and hostile tribes, not to mention disease, starvation etc. so in order to survive they had to be hyper-vigilant to threats. They had to look out for danger before they looked for opportunities because if they missed a piece of fruit hanging from a tree, they’d go hungry for a while, whereas if they didn’t notice the tiger hiding in the bushes… well, I’m sure you can guess. We’ve inherited this negativity bias, which means that we notice the bad things before we notice anything good. While this is great from the point of view of survival, it doesn’t help us to enjoy a sense of wellbeing, tranquility, and happiness. So we need to turn our attention to the good things that are happening, and the pleasant experiences.

Mindful Tip: Notice a positive experience. This can be something simple like somebody smiling at you briefly as you pass, the sun shining, or the feeling of satisfaction that you’ve done a good job. Allow yourself to feel the goodness from that experience, and let the thoughts of reluctance pass. Stay with the experience for 10, 20, 30 seconds. Take notice of how your body is feeling at this moment. Absorb the experience and feel it sink into your body like a cup of hot chocolate on a winter's day when you feel the warmth spread through your body.

This is mindfulness!

 

Useful resources:

Links

https://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.headspace.com/

Books

My mindful Journal, by Anna Black

The Little Mindfulness Workbook, by Gary Hennessey

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