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  1. What is Mindfulness
  2. Why practice Mindfulness
  3. Benefits of Mindfulness
  4. Mindfulness exercises

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of giving our full attention to the present moment without making judgments about what we are experiencing.

Often when people hear about mindfulness they think of meditation, and while mindfulness has been adapted from the Eastern practice of meditation, its purpose is different.

Traditional meditation tends to focus on connecting with a higher power, your inner self or reaching a state of enlightenment.

The purpose of mindfulness is simply to exist in the moment, and allow ourselves to fully experience life in that second without the usual buzz of activity and thoughts that make up our lives.

The idea of sitting and breathing sounds easy but if you have ever tried you’ll know that often random thoughts and memories pop up into our minds that can be a major source of distraction.

However, mindfulness can be practiced by anyone and is deceptively simple.

Why Mindfulness?

Every second we are bombarded by information through each of our five senses. In order to stop us becoming overwhelmed our brains filter out a lot of this information, and process it based on what we already know. This serves two functions:

  1. It allows us to respond to any potential threat quickly
  2. We develop new skills and are able to use these at a later point

When humans used to hunt and gather food they had to be able to respond quickly to a sudden noise that might have signalled danger – the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Without this essential skill they would have been vulnerable sudden attacks from predators.

How to practice mindfulness

In modern times, our brains continue to process information in the same way, and while this has some of the same benefits, it can also act against us.

Nowadays, rather than running away from predators, we instead have to deal with other stresses, such as commuting during rush hour, arguments with family or at work, and paying bills.

The human brain is an excellent problem-solving computer, but like any machine it can sometimes become overwhelmed. This means that sometimes our thoughts and habits can start to create problems for us.

This is where mindfulness can become a powerful tool; by being completely present in the moment, with a non-judgmental focus, we interrupt the pattern of constant thinking and reacting.

Instead we are noticing what is happening around us without attempting to change or analyse it.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness has a wide range of benefits, some of the most significant benefits include:

  • Increased self-awareness (what upsets me, what inspires me, etc)
  • Improved resilience
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Can prevent depression (by interrupting negative thought cycles)
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced chronic pain levels

How to practice Mindfulness

Mother and daughter practicing mindfulness

There are a range of tools and methods you can use to try mindfulness. These can range from simple breathing exercises to walking or eating with a mindful focus.

For anyone who has previously experienced mental illness in the past, or is currently struggling, we recommend you proceed with caution.

While mindfulness is an excellent wellness tool it is important to be aware that when first starting with mindfulness that this can initially make some people feel worse, particularly those who have had or currently have depression and/or anxiety.

In these cases, we recommend you first speak to either your GP, key worker or therapist before trying this on your own and, where possible, do this with someone who has experience of working in mental health.

Mindful Breathing Exercise:

  1. Find somewhere comfortable to sit or lay down where you can close your eyes
  2. Begin to focus on your breathing – don’t try to change it, just notice how it feels now, is it fast or slow, is it deep or shallow?
  3. Notice any emotions or thoughts that come up and allow them to come and go
  4. If/when you find yourself being distracted, acknowledge your focus has changed and bring yourself back to your breath
  5. It can help to put your hands on your stomach area so that you can feel the rise and fall of your chest
  6. Spend 15 minutes doing this and try to make it a daily practice

Mindful Eating Exercise

  1. Find a raisin (or food you enjoy eating) and hold this in the palm of your hand for a minute
  2. Hold this between your finger and thumb and start to really notice the colours, lines and shape for another minute
  3. Roll this between your finger and thumb, alternating hands. Close your eyes to allow you to deepen your focus of how this feels
  4. Hold this food under your nose and allow yourself to smell the scent of this - is it a sour or sweet smell? Do you look forward to eating this?
  5. Place the food on your tongue, but don’t chew it. Instead, hold this on your tongue and notice how it feels
  6. Take one small bite. Stop. How does this first bite taste? Now take another bite and slowly allow yourself to chew this food. Does the food crunch? Does it melt in your mouth? Does it taste pleasant?
  7. Finally, allow yourself to swallow this food – notice as this flows down your throat and into your stomach. How does your mouth feel now? What sensations do you notice in your stomach?

Useful links

Here are some small steps you can take to keep on top of our mental wellbeing and cope during times of uncertainty.

Finding a service for you

You can locate details of the Extern's mental health services which may be near you here.