Mindfulness practice improves concentration and memory, helps to understand and accept one’s own emotions, and calms down. It is especially helpful for people who experience demanding living and working conditions on a daily basis. Nowadays, when stress and haste accompany us every day, developing effective methods of dealing with anxiety and difficult emotions seems to be a necessity.

What is mindfulness training?

Mindfulness, also known as mindfulness training, is mainly designed for people who would like to better cope with stress and emotions. According to the best-known definition, which was authored by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts in the United States, Mindfulness is: “a state of mindfulness resulting from intentionally and non-judgmentally directing attention to what we are experiencing in the present moment.” Being present “in the here and now” in this way sharpens the senses, helps us feel reality more fully and take it in with greater detachment and calm.

Both thinking about the past and the future carry an emotional charge; thoughts travel one to the other. Often, even positive thinking turns negative after a few seconds, bringing stressful, anxiety-filled images; for example, as to our health, financial situation or the success of ourselves or our loved ones.

The MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) program, is the best known mindfulness training. It can be found in some hospitals, medical facilities, training, meditation, counseling and personal development centers, as well as universities.

Mindfulness teaches how to function better in life, without excessive, debilitating emotional baggage. By learning to be in the “here and now,” we slowly see how many of our problems are related to the fact that we look at life through the filter of views and beliefs. These views and beliefs often come from the home we grew up in, from the environment that shaped us, so it’s hard to say that they are “ours” when we took them over unconsciously in childhood and early adolescence.

Practical tips that each of us can put into practice

Stop reading for a moment. Close your eyes. Pay attention to your breathing. How is it now – long or short? How do you feel when observing yourself? With mindfulness, this moment is no longer similar to others, lost in the rush and lack of mindfulness. Want to experience more mindful moments? Try meditation, which is the primary method used in mindfulness practice. This training involves observing emotions as they arise without judging them and focusing on inner stillness and breathing, not following your “mindfulness.” Mindfulness practitioners also often use what is known as body scanning. This exercise involves following your attention to each part of your body individually; from your feet to the top of your head. Both of the aforementioned exercises have the effect of reducing stress and achieving inner peace.

5 basic principles of mindfulness

  1. breathe consciously

Conscious breathing connects you to the present moment – it’s one of the best ways to anchor yourself in full awareness. Whenever your attention becomes distracted, simply direct it to your breath. Follow your attention with an inhalation and then an exhalation. And again: inhale, exhale. It only takes 10 such conscious breaths to lower your blood pressure, slow your heartbeat, and return to the “here and now.”

2 Focus your attention on one thing at a time

If you are washing your hands, for example, try to do it differently than usual, more attentively. Feel the water on your skin, its temperature, the way it runs off your hands. Give yourself several seconds more than usual for this activity to experience it fully. If you stop even for a moment, your attention will make any seemingly trivial activity into an interesting and consciousness-changing experience. It doesn’t matter what you are doing; running, cooking, driving, washing your hands – any of these activities can become an attentiveness training.

3 – Turn off “autopilot.”

Do something different than usual sometimes. Prepare yourself a more festive breakfast in the middle of the week, take a different route to work, if you are right-handed, brush your teeth with your left hand. If you’re usually in a hurry when you eat and eat without leaving your computer, go out for lunch sometimes to a pub with an unfamiliar, exotic menu; savor and experience food without rushing. Or maybe leave the house a quarter of an hour earlier to take a walk, stroll a few minutes before work, or get off the bus 1 stop earlier to look more attentively than usual at the nature you pass that you usually don’t notice on a daily basis; trees, bushes, flowers, clouds moving across the sky. Such changes in your daily routine help you become more aware of experiencing the moment and, sometimes for the first time in your life, become fully rooted in it.

  1. notice thoughts and emotions

Start noticing what is going on in your mind. Accept the thoughts that come to you, even when they are negative. Observe. Be gentle with yourself. Ask yourself every now and then: “What is this moment like for me?”, “What am I feeling in my body right now?”, “What was that thought that lingered in my mind for a moment?”. Such questions are like a STOP sign. They teach self-awareness and attentiveness. Becoming aware of one’s own well-being on a frequent basis is a step to getting to know oneself better; one’s thoughts and the resulting emotions, and consequently an increasingly better, more conscious relationship with oneself.

5 – Just be.

Try to shift from action mode to being, experiencing mode. Allow yourself an unplanned afternoon or evening from time to time. Decide that during this time you don’t have to accomplish anything, go anywhere, do anything. Let what you want to do guide you, observe whatever arises in you, let each activity become more and more conscious and attentive. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to rest for a longer period of time, a few seconds of looking at the tree outside your window can provide you with respite, quieting negative thoughts and emotions. When you start acting calmly, from a level of deeper contact with yourself, many problems will cease to exist and you will notice that they were only the result of unnecessary worry and a projection of your anxiety.

Mindfulness and diet

It happens that while eating we are occupied with, for example, watching TV, searching for information on the Internet, talking or working. This leads to the fact that we often don’t pay attention to taste or portion size at all. Unfortunately, it happens that we do not remember what we ate, what the taste of the dish was… This is a simple way to overweight, problems with the digestive system and related ailments. If we want to avoid this, it is a good idea to focus only on what we have on our plate during a meal. The change can start at any time, at the next meal. Pay attention to the color. Feel the texture of the food. Eat more slowly! Eating mindfully will help you reduce portion sizes. Usually if we eat more slowly and focus only on the act of eating, we eat less because we are satiated faster. This also has a salutary effect on our digestive system; thoroughly broken down, food is more easily and quickly digested.

Suggested reading:

“Mindfulness Practice for Beginners,” by Jon Kabat Zinn

“Meditation Day by Day. 25 lessons for mindful living,” Christophe André

With the password “Bravecare” you can get consultations on mindfulness practice. Information at: a.czarnecka@bravecare.pl