What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness practices have been well researched and demonstrated to have significant benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, increased focus and attention, better emotional regulation and improved relationships. Mindfulness involves intentionally focusing your attention on the present moment, without judgment or criticism; this means being fully present with your thoughts, emotions or sensations in the moment, without trying to change or control them.
Here are two mindfulness practices you could try to see if they work for you:
When we feel stressed or anxious, our sympathetic nervous system (the "fight or flight" response) is activated. Mindful breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" response), promoting relaxation and reduced feelings of stress and anxiety. Mindful breathing can be as simple as paying attention to your nostrils and the sensations you notice as you feel the air entering and leaving your body. As you notice your mind beginning to wander, as it will, bring your attention back to your nostrils. Through this simple practice, you are training your attention to focus on the present moment; over time, this can improve your ability to concentrate and stay focused on tasks and reduce distractibility. Mindful breathing also can help us to become more aware of our thoughts and emotions. By observing these without judgment, we can learn to regulate our reactions and respond more skilfully to stressful situations, leading to greater emotional resilience and wellbeing.
Body scan meditation
Body scan meditation can help us become more aware of our habits, tendencies, and patterns of thought, resulting in greater self-awareness over time. The practice involves focusing your attention on different parts of your body, from your toes to the top of your head, and observing, without judgment, any sensations or tension. Body scan meditation can be done by lying down or sitting comfortably and focusing your attention on each part of your body in turn. Begin with some mindful breathing, focusing on the sensation of the breath moving in and out of your body. Bring your attention to the top of your head; notice any sensations you feel there, such as warmth or tingling. Slowly move your attention down your body, paying attention to each part of your body in turn. As you focus on each part, notice any sensations you feel there, such as tension or relaxation. If you notice any areas of tension or discomfort, release that tension as you exhale. You can imagine the tension melting away or simply let go of any tension you feel. Continue to scan your body, moving down from your head to your neck, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, stomach, hips, legs and feet. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the body scan. Don't judge yourself for getting distracted, simply notice the distraction and refocus on the body.
Overcoming Challenges to Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness can be challenging to practise when emotions are running high. At times like this, it is easy to get caught up in thoughts and emotions and lose sight of the present moment. It is important to understand that mindfulness is not about denying or minimising these feelings, but rather about finding ways of being present with them without judging them. Try to acknowledge how you feel in the moment and notice what you feel in your body. If this feels too difficult, you could pay attention to your surroundings and notice where you are, in the present. Offer yourself some self-compassion as you are learning this new skill.
If you’d like some support getting started with practising mindfulness, you can access a free 40-day mindfulness course at the Radical Compassion Institute.
You can also find some guided meditation tracks here.