What is Mindfulness? A Beginner's Guide

Mindfulness has quite a few different definitions & methods of practice nowadays because it's become so popular in the media. It originated as Buddhist tradition and has been around for thousands of years. We use mindfulness as a way to deal with suffering that each and everyone of us experience during life. It won't solve the problems that come your way but mindfulness certainly can help your mindset if you allow it to! Some people use the terms mindfulness and meditation interchangeably which doesn't help to clarify things so here I'll explain what mindfulness is, why you should practice it and how to do it!

Science is proving the benefits to mental & physical well-being for those who practice mindfulness and meditation which is why it's become so popular. The way I see mindfulness is that it's something I can do all day, in times of frustration or, for example, if I'm having trouble falling asleep at night. Some people use the term "mindfulness meditation" and they really just mean meditation. Meditation is the time that you set aside to focus on your breath for whatever length of time you've got. To learn how to begin a meditation practice, read the blog here.

What's important to note is that there are sort of 3 main types of mindfulness:

- Jon Kabat-Zinn's MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction)

- Buddhist traditions like Zen which is what I teach (doesn't mean you have to be Buddhist or religious to learn or practice it)

- And then a huge group of companies where you can "get fully certified" in mindfulness for something like £14.99 online which might have you staring at everyday objects in your house for 10 minutes and telling you that you should feel better. Don't do that. Doesn't work!

One thing to know with mindfulness is that you aren't just suddenly mindful where nothing bothers you and all of life's troubles are solved by breathing slow and walking in the sunshine. Life can be really hard and there will be times that can put everything you know into question. The one thing you learn is that you need to always come back to yourself. It's not possible to control anything in life. Even your thinking. (Don't think about a green bicycle.)

Got a green bike on your mind, don't you!? See, nothing is under our control. Not even what's in our heads! But there are things that we can try to do like remember that no one gets out of this alive so we can stop taking things so seriously. By slowing your breathe and bringing the breath down into your belly, it changes our physical health and brings you out of fight or flight mode. (I know you can't breathe in your belly but try to expand when you breathe in and exhale slowly while the ribs come back in.) When we do this regularly, it will become a habit for you.

Why do we practice mindfulness?

Mindfulness can give you another perspective, helping to serve as reminders of how you can go about your day in a different way by making small changes to stress less, breathe better and to be more kind in your mind. **And that's the key - you live the same life; you just make minor changes. Overtime, it helps you to look at things differently. Here’s an example: your car breaks down AGAIN! And the instant reaction is to think “how am I going to pay for this? Why does this always happen at the worst times?!” With a consistent mindfulness practice, these things can still be annoying. Won't lie to you there! Where the difference is though, you will start to see this whole mindfulness thing working because your initial reaction would be “it’s a good thing this happened now rather than when we were going away for the weekend.”

It’s simple shifts in perspective that have HUGE benefits to your mental health, physical health, your relationships, how much sleep you get and how many aches and pains you have in your body. Most people these days LIVE in fight or flight...then wonder why they have so much muscle tension or regular headaches. What most people don’t realise is that arguing with a partner, moving house, the loss of a job – major life changes – these emotions manifest in the body. As you know, there are good stresses and bad stresses. Prolonged exposure to stress increases levels of cortisol in the body which can cause inflammation because tissues in the body are sensitive to cortisol. To think that back pain & muscle tension can be caused by years of stress and worrying is now proven time and time again.

This is where mindfulness comes in and can do quite a few things:

-help to stop the cycle of overanalysing and downward spirals of thought

-change your perspective when you need it most

-help you to shift the thinking to take even the smallest of breaks from a task to breathe better, sit up taller or take a walk

-empowers you to see that you have a choice to shift your mindset

How to incorporate mindfulness in your life:

Mindful walking: park further away or get off the bus/train a stop earlier. Walk to your car or to the shop while taking in the sights and sounds, flowers blooming, the feeling of your clothes while you move, the smell of the fresh air. Just keep your phone in your pocket!

Cooking & eating: while preparing food and eating, notice the textures, colours and shapes, think about what it takes to get this food on your table. Breathe slowly while you eat, chew slower(!) and enjoy the food you are lucky enough to have.

During the day: notice how you sit or stand often. Is your body upright or are your shoulders hunched forward preventing you from breathing fully and bringing in fresh oxygen? It's good to get up for a walk as often as you can. Even finding small ways for movement like rolling your shoulders back and forth helps when you are seated.

Mindfulness is about being aware of your body, emotions, thoughts and habits throughout your day and taking small amounts of time to bring movement into the body. Mindfulness is even when you realize that you aren't being very mindful. Bringing more awareness about how you feel is the first step. This is a journey with no destination because you will always be finding new things that work for you as you go along. Just begin by slowing down. You will see how much more time you really have.

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