Before I started practising it regularly, mindfulness was quite an abstract concept for me. An 'out there', hippy, crunchy idea, practised in the middle of shadowy woods under the light of the moon. I know. It's a pretty blanket perspective to have of something I knew nothing about. I can now proudly say that I have matured into finding out more about anything before delving into ignorant judgements! And I am so glad that I did.
It seemed like no matter which courses or training I took, mindfulness played a significant part. The media are talking about it, as are all the healers, the life coaches, the yogis, and everyone in between. Before I dive into my new and improved interpretation, I must emphasise that before practising any mindfulness exercises, and particularly if you have struggled, or are struggling with, issues of mental health, please talk to a health provider/therapist, as it can have adverse triggering effects.
I am pretty sure that a big factor in my initial biased understanding of mindfulness, was that what I saw everywhere resembled this picture in some form. It felt like there were restrictions and boundaries - you have to be a yogi; you have to have a strong spiritual connection; you have to wear long, flowing, monochrome robes; you have to live in a cabin atop a mountain........ But if all of this were true, how come it seemed like everyone else had access? So I downloaded a meditation app, I read about mindfulness in popular books and in academic journals, and what I learned was powerful. Mindfulness means awareness. Mindfulness means lifting up my head and paying attention. Mindfulness means connection to others and to our environment. And actually, we ALL can do it and reap the benefits. I'm talking all ages, all genders, all cultures.
I won't go into detail about all of the benefits of mindfulness that research has evidenced, including increased concentration, decreased anxiety, and more compassion - you can find out more about the benefits here: https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-positive-psychology-3-great-insights/.
What I would like to do is make it more accessible for you. So from a cognitive perspective, you can be mindful by being aware of what you are thinking. In any given moment, are your thoughts serving you? Are they relevant to where you are in that moment? Are they racing ahead into an unknown future? Or are they stuck under an anchor of past experiences? Do your thoughts tell you untruths about others - or worse, about yourself? To plant the seed of mindfulness, you can begin by just being aware of your thoughts. You can do this by scheduling in a few minutes to do so, or just whenever you remember - whatever works best for you.
If you choose to just take as it comes, there is good news for you. Mindfulness can be weaved into ANY daily activity - brushing your teeth, making a coffee, on the school run, driving to work, going for a walk..... the possibilities are endless. Think back on those times when you have been on auto-pilot and cannot remember, for example, details of your drive home. Your thoughts were not in the present. You were not aware of what was happening around you - what your vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch were all actively taking in whilst your thoughts were elsewhere. If you can pick one activity that you do every day anyway, and choose to be mindful of your thoughts on a regular basis, you may very well see - like I did - that you don't have to make a huge identity change to practise mindfulness.
The next step is where the magic lies. You can change your thoughts. You can distract yourself from negative thoughts with an activity that brings you joy. We often feel weighed under by a pattern of thinking we have carried with us sometimes for our whole lives. But actually, if you think about it, only you have the power to change your thinking. This is not something that is easy to do, and so I recommend speaking to a professional, or at least practising awareness of your thoughts regularly for a while, before attempting to change lifelong patterns of thinking.
I am a positive psychology life coach and co-founder of Soul Space. To find out more about our life coaching services, click here:
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