TOBY MIZZI, COUNSELLING PSYCHOLOGIST, STRONG MINDS PSYCHOLOGY
Last blog, we introduced informal mindfulness which basically meant bringing your full attention and awareness to the present moment, whatever you may have been doing in that moment. Mindfulness can also be practiced formally, which essentially means a dedicated time to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is the best example of this. It is important to distinguish that mindfulness and meditation are not the same thing. Meditation is simply one way (of many) you can practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness based meditation usually involves simply paying attention to your breath. In fact, focussing on the breath is probably the most common way to practice mindfulness. Your breath is always with you and is an ongoing physiological activity that will continue regardless of whether you are aware of it or not (in other words, it is automatic). This is part of the reason why focussing on the breath is often a good place to start if you want to practice mindfulness. There are hundreds of different specific breathing techniques that you could use, but the main point is that you are bringing your whole awareness to breathing. Take notice of your natural breathing rhythm. Do not try and chance it. Just notice it. See if you can notice the feeling of the breath passing through your nostrils. You might notice that the air is cool as it enters through the nostrils. Notice the feeling of your diaphragm expanding and collapsing as you breathe in and out.
Some people might like a bit more structure to their mindfulness practice, so you might try and technique such as the 7/11 technique where you breath in for a count of 7 seconds and then breath out for a count of 11 seconds. Of course, even this can be modified to suit your own style (e.g., shorter breathing counts).
One thing you are likely to notice when practicing this sort of activity is that the mind will always wander. The aim here is not to stop your mind wandering but to simply recognise and acknowledge when thoughts start to manifest and to accept them and allow them to move on before bringing your awareness back to your breath. I often like to use the ‘Three R’s’ method as a basic reminder to Rest your awareness on your breath / Recognise when and where your mind wanders / Return your awareness to the breath. This is a helpful guide as it is only natural that your mind will wander when you try and practice mindfulness. You can also consider guided meditations which can be a good place to start. That way, you simply have to listen to the instructions in the guide as to what you need to do.
Consider starting and/or ending your day with some mindfulness practice. You don’t have to it for hours and hours. Even five minutes once a day is a good start. If you make the time to practice it formally, it will become more natural in your other day to day activities (informally). Give it a go and see how it might help. Mindfulness has been linked to a number of positive outcomes including reduced stress, reduced emotional reactivity (e.g., anger), more self-compassion and greater cognitive flexibility. Mindfulness is also incorporated into a number of treatment programs including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It is very widely used as a therapeutic tool in modern times.
Here are some more tips on practising mindfulness:
About the Author:
Toby shares his time between the Strong Minds Psychology team, Swinburne University, and his young family. He is passionate about providing individualised support, and empowering people to enhance their mental health. Toby provides counselling and therapy for children, adolescents, adults and couples – helping with depression, anxiety, self-esteem, relationship difficulties, grief &loss, and family conflict. Mindful Mondays will be a regular blog on our website and Facebook page.
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