I’m one of the worlds biggest worriers. Often worrying about things I can’t control and worrying about my loved ones as they carry on with their lives without a care in the world. The part of my body that feels these stresses the most is my neck and shoulder area so I do a lot of yoga to try to counter the pain.
While yoga is pain relieving and de-stressing for the time I’m doing it, I really needed to find a way to relax my mind and my body for as much of the day as I could while just getting on with life. A friend put me on to a meditation class and as part of it the tutor taught us a thing or two about mindfulness.
Now I’m guessing that most of you would have heard of mindfulness before but probably not all of you would have tried it. Just to explain the term: Mindfulness is a form of meditation that you achieve from concentrating on your breath for long enough so that you stop acting on your thoughts. In other words, thoughts come in and out of your mind but you simply observe them from an objective viewpoint. You don’t judge them or plan to do anything about them – you just let them be. So imagine a negative thought coming into your mind, you are able to let it float straight back out as if it were a cloud knowing you can deal with that thought at a later time.
With enough practice – and I’m warning you now it takes a lot of practice – you then learn to be in control of thoughts rather them controlling you and bringing on stress and anxiety.
Let me list some of the benefits mindfulness can give you, once you’ve learned to do it properly.
This list isn’t exhaustive, neither can I vouch for them all as my experience isn’t that vast. But here goes … Mindfulness:
• Decreases stress, depression, anxiety and irritability
• Prevents feelings of exhaustion
• Reduces how emotional you become when in pain
• Reduces pain
• Improves mood
• Improves memory
• Is good for anger management
As I said, these are just a few things but they’ll do for a start, right?
At this stage I should say that lots of clinical research has been undertaken over the years into the benefits of mindfulness. If you’re considering giving it a go or really taking to mindfulness in a serious way, you might like to do a little research into it yourself. Perhaps find a class like I did.
So now on to my experience of mindfulness. My instructor, who was very knowledgeable and offered his classes for free, led us through some guided meditation. What that means is someone is giving you prompts to get you to a state of relaxation and then to a state of mindfulness.
Firstly, you are guided to look at your breath and concentrate solely on your breathing. In doing that you are guided to relax all parts of your body one by one. If you feel any parts tensing up again you focus your breath on those parts and the tension should ease away. The instructor stops talking, you feel completely relaxed and from here your only concern is the pattern of your breathing. Naturally, thoughts will come into your mind but in time you learn to allow them to float out again. And that is the start of achieving mindfulness.
One exercise we were given was to try using mindfulness as we go about doing simple day to day tasks. For example, if you’re making your first cup of tea of the morning, instead of thinking about the stack of ironing in the basket, the weeds outgrowing the roses in the garden, the fact that your boss has put you on lates again or whether you’ll get a report out in time at work, you solely concentrate on the process in hand. For example: Fill the kettle and think of nothing else. Put the bag in the cup and push the picture of the linen basket out of your mind – and so on. You get the idea.
I did manage to do this quite well at one stage and I have to say that I found it calming. I only wish I had carried on. Especially on a week like this when there have been a few upsets around me and, without a coping strategy, I can feel the tension building in my shoulders again. Maybe it’s time to allow a touch of mindfulness back into my life. In fact we could all do with some couldn’t we?