Week 19 – Mindfulness and Meditation
Hello and welcome to Giving Tuesday Week 19. This week, we’re looking at ways to reduce stress, and specifically at mindfulness and meditation.
What is mindfulness?
It is so easy to rush through life, always looking towards the next goal or the next event. And sometimes you might find yourself spending precious time time looking back at the past, rehashing arguments, cherishing memories or debating what might-have-been. Which means we tend to forget to appreciate the now that is happening all around us.
Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing. This awareness of the present moment is called “mindfulness.” Keeping awareness of the world around you, and reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations is the first step to mindfulness.
If you’d like to delve a little more into the concept of mindfulness, take a look at this excellent TED Talks introduction:
So, how can you be “more mindful”?
Tips to try:
- Notice the everyday – paying attention to the small details of daily life helps us to interrupt the “autopilot” mode that we often run on, giving us new perspectives to enjoy.
- Keep it regular – start out by picking the same time every day to be more mindful. Gradually increase the time until you are more mindful without having to remember!
- Try something new – taking a different route to a favourite location can help to break the routine and make you more aware of yourself and your surroundings.
- Watch your thoughts – sometimes it’s hard to calm an over-busy mind, and whenever you try to sit and be mindful, thoughts crowd in refusing to let you relax. Don’t fight them. Imagine you are standing at a bus station seeing ‘thought buses’ coming and going. You don’t have to get on them, just let the buses come and go. Sometimes it helps to try gentle walking or yoga, to get those pesky thoughts under control.
- Name that thought – sometimes particular thoughts or feelings can be particularly negative. For example “I might fail that exam,” or “what if I get sick?” Sometimes, labelling the feeling can help to control it. Saying to yourself, “That is anxiety,” when the thought or feeling occurs helps to conquer them.
For a full list of tips, and some guidance on them, check out the NHS website.
Let’s give it a go:
The Oxford Mindfulness Centre has links to free mindfulness sessions for adults every Wednesday, and the mental health charity, Mind, has some excellent resources also. Why not take a moment out to have a look through these resources and give mindfulness a try.
Want to try mindfulness with your children?
Mindfulness is a great benefit to your children. Studies have shown that it can help children who have difficulty in paying attention, improve social skills and even develop decision-making and problem-solving skills.
The Big Life Journal (in addition to being an excellent resource for children who are struggling to cope with stress, low self-esteem or “big feelings”) has some simple mindfulness activities to try for free. You can find them by clicking here.
Here are some simple activities to try with your child today:
Where does meditation fit in?
One of the main practices associated with mindfulness is meditation. Meditation has been used for over 7000 years, first in India, and then later in China, before moving to Japan, the Middle East and finally Europe.
First developed as part of a spiritual journey or for religious observances, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that “secular meditation” was developed (the concept of meditation for stress relief and self-improvement), and these days, meditation and yoga are considered mainstream methods for treating various mental and physical health problems.
What exactly is meditation?
Meditation is where a person uses a technique such as mindfulness or focusing of the mind to help train their mind to become more aware and achieve a stable and calm state.
It is a skill that has to be learned, teaching yourself to be more aware of yourself and the world, to get a healthy sense of perspective and to stop judging yourself unfairly.
So, how do I do it?
HeadSpace, the online meditation course, has this to say:
“Most meditations begin by sitting in a quiet place, closing the eyes, calming the mind, and focusing on the breath. But there’s more to meditating than sitting quietly and breathing. When we meditate, we are essentially cultivating awareness and compassion; we are training the mind to stop being easily distracted and instead be more focused in the present moment. Using the breath as our anchor in the moment, we simply sit and gradually learn to let thoughts and feelings come and go.”
Sounds pretty appealing, doesn’t it?
HeadSpace offers a beginners course for free and you can sign up here, or you can use one of the many guided meditations available on YouTube, if you prefer.
So, now that you understand a bit more about mindfulness and meditation, are you going to give it a try? We’d love to hear how you get on. But remember, it’s not a ‘quick fix’, rather something you work on over time. And like the old saying goes… “practice makes perfect”.