Local expert shares her mindfulness tips
- Credit: Archant
What is mindfulness? And how could it help with your wellbeing in this difficult times?
During the last two months of lockdown, many of us will have experienced negative feelings including low mood, anxiety, stress and worry. Mindfulness, which has its roots in Buddhism and meditation, can be a powerful tool for maintaining your emotional equilibrium.
The idea is that by making a special focus on what’s happening in the present moment, focusing on the body and the breathing, the technique can help people to feel calmer and relax, cope with difficult thoughts, develop their self awareness and be kinder to themselves.
By taking this time out, you can notice what’s happening in the body – for example, whether you perhaps have physical symptoms of anxiety such as muscle tension and shallow breathing. You can also let thoughts come and go – for example, you might be worrying about what the future may hold, which can cause anxiety. Through practising mindfulness you can focus on what’s happening in the here and now.
Mindfulness exercises to try
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The mental health charity, Mind, suggests trying the following exercises as an introduction to mindfulness:
Mindful eating. Pay attention to the taste, sight and textures of what you eat. So, if you’re drinking a cup of tea or coffee you could focus on the steam that it gives off.
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Mindful moving, walking or running. If you’re exercising, notice the feeling of your body moving: the breeze against your skin or the different smells that are around you.
Mindful colouring and drawing. Focus on the colours and the sensation of your pencil against the paper, rather than trying to draw something in particular. Try a mindfulness colouring book or there are lots of mindfulness colouring images available to download online and print out.
Mindful meditation. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing, your thoughts, sensations in your body and the things you can hear around you. Try to bring you focus back to the present if your mind starts to wander.
‘It’s a way to reset and unwind’
Mindfulness is a key component of Norwich-based clinical hypnotherapist Leah Larwood’s wellness toolkit. Here she tells us how regular practice has benefited her – and suggests some ways to try it out for yourself.
How did you discover mindfulness?
My father started meditation classes when I was a child and I remember attending one of them with him in Norwich when I was a bit older. So really meditation came before mindfulness for me, but effectively they’re the same thing. I have my Dad to thank for introducing me to meditation. It’s really helped him over the years, and it has me too.
How did you start practising mindfulness?
I didn’t start practising mindfulness until I was in my 30s. I’d dabbled with meditation during university and shortly after, but it was only around eight years ago that I started taking it more seriously. A few years ago, I also did a 12-week course, Breathworks Mindfulness for Stress, in Norfolk, which was really good. The structure of attending classes was a really useful way for me to get back into meditation.
Please give us some examples of how mindfulness has benefited you...
It’s given me stillness, clarity and a reliable way to reset and unwind. Looking back, 2013 was the year that I did the most meditation and it was an extremely good year for many reasons, largely due to the amount of time I was meditating. I was connecting with myself, allowing stillness and having a much greater awareness of my thoughts. It’s generally helped me to cultivate a better awareness, observe recurring thoughts, patterns and behaviours while just being a very relaxing thing to do for my wellbeing.
How can mindfulness benefit people during the current situation?
With mindfulness you can establish a more stable mind, find resilience, work with charged thoughts and use your breath as an anchor to calm the mind. With practice, it will become easier to let go of unhelpful thoughts, work with unwanted feelings and be with challenging situations. Through practising this, difficult thoughts will gradually subside. So it’s a great thing to be doing at the moment during these times.
There are thousands of studies that have shown how mindfulness can positively impact mental and physical health. Whether it’s reducing stress, improving our sleep, increasing our focus/concentrating or improving relationships, research shows mindfulness works.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to practise mindfulness about how to start?
One thing I always suggest is spend a bit of time experimenting with different meditations. There loads of apps, books and online courses available these days. It’s good to try a few out to see what style suits you. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and don’t try to stop your thoughts: mindfulness isn’t about stopping thoughts it’s about being aware of them.
When you start meditating you may suddenly think – hang on, I’m thinking more than I usually do. That might not be true. It’s likely that because you’re paying more attention to your thoughts, you’re more aware of what you’re thinking. Awareness is key. This is often the first step to making progress.
Allow background noise and sounds to be present. Background noise isn’t a problem, it will be virtually impossible to cultivate a completely soundproof environment. Try not to get caught up in activity. Just allow all of the sounds to be present, just as they are, with things coming and going, other sounds may be permanently there. Don’t worry about trying to block them out. Just notice what you hear and then try your best to let it go. Try to be an impartial observer, allowing any sounds that arise to just be around you, without getting involved.
If you’re interested in trying mindfulness, Leah recommends:
Insight Timer: insighttimer.com
Calm: Find via your app store
Mindfulness Association: mindfulnessassocation.net
Breath Works: breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk
Book for beginners
A Monk’s Guide to Happiness by Gelong Thubten