Is Mindfulness the next big thing?
In a word of increasing stress and technological advances, it is often too easy for us to prioritise the world around us before our own wellbeing. Whether it be due to long work hours, running around our kids or the pressures of every day life, often when someone mentions the word our first response is “Oh I don’t have time for that”.
But what is mindfulness? What does it do?? And how do I do it?
The most common belief surrounding mindfulness and meditation is that it revolves around stepping back from the present moment to view a broader picture. Based from ancient eastern meditation practices Mindfulness has been defined as a process of “facilitating an attentional stance of detached observation”. But what does this mean?
In simple terms this can be simplified to “paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance” ( Hilton et al., 2016). Mindfulness is believed to work by shifting our conscious thought on the present moment, to increase the awareness of ones surroundings and inner sensations to experience a moment in another light. Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
When looking at the evidence behind mindfulness there is a vast array of growing research into the area surrounding mental wellbeing and pain management. Recent studies by Hilton et al. (2016) found that on various pain conditions including chronic pain, low back pain, fibromyalgia and acute musculoskeletal injury, improvements are present in pain, pain acceptance, quality of life, and functional status. While the exact mechanism behind these effects is still relatively unknown it may be hypothesised that mindfulness may impact the central area of our brain in charge of our emotional responses to experiences. It just so happens that this area of our brain is a main driver in hormone regulation which may increase or suppress certain responses. While this is still a big question mark and has researchers from around the world looking deeper we can happily accept that any reductions in pain and increases in quality of life is a good thing right! That just leaves you to start your practice!
So how do you do that? The most common excuse I hear is “I cant mediate. I cant focus”. Meditation is like exercise for our mind. We can not expect to get out of bed one day and run a marathon and therefore we can not expect to become wonderful meditators over night. It takes time!
I find one of the best ways to get started is by simply using our breath. Find a comfortable position, be it standing sitting or lying, and bring your attention to your breath. As you inhale and exhale bring the attention of your five senses to the breath. What does it look like entering and exiting your body? How does it sound? How does it smell? How does it feel? How does it taste? Do not force your attention. If your mind wanders let it, than simply bring it back to the breath. Start with a small practise of 60 seconds and than progress as you find fit.
This simple practise is one of the easiest ways to get your self started in a mindfulness practise however if you find guided meditation a more compelling approach there are a number of free apps out there to get you started! Some of these include Calm or the headspace app!
There no time like the present! Take the time to look after yourself now and watch those around you thrive. It all starts with you!
Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B. A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., … & Maglione, M. A. (2016). Mindfulness meditation for chronic pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51(2), 199-213.