Mindfulness meditation can be particularly helpful in terms of improving our overall wellbeing and mental health. In particular, it helps us focus on accepting our thoughts and feelings for what they are; without judgment. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, thoughts and feelings are not suppressed or judged as being bad or wrong, they are simply accepted with the knowledge that they will eventually pass. In this way, you become less reactive to thoughts and feelings, particularly those that are negative or distressing.
For mindful meditation to be effective, however, it takes practice. There are a host of different mindfulness meditation activities and we are going to introduce you to just two here. Importantly, underpinning all mindful meditation practice are the following goals:
• Focus your attention on the experience;
• When thoughts, feelings, or sensations arise, simply notice them and return your attention to the experience;
• When your attention drifts (which it will) or you become distracted, return your attention back to the experience.
Mindfulness Tips: Making your Mindful Practice Effective
1. Regardless of what happens during your practice keep going, it doesn’t matter! This was your personal experience, so keep at it.
2. If your mind wanders off, that is ok. Simply notice where it wandered to and bring it back to the breath.
3. There is no right or wrong when it comes to mindful meditation so try to let go of any judgement you make about ‘how well you are doing’.
4. Be kind to yourself and approach the practice with a curious mind rather than a critical mind.
5. Falling asleep is not mindfulness, so if you notice this happening simply draw your attention back to your breath or open your eyes for a few moments if you need to.
6. If you feel emotional during your practice, notice what thoughts or emotions make you feel this way, take note of them and chose to investigate them further after your practice.
7. If you notice pain or discomfort, that is ok. Notice the discomfort and try to breathe into it, see if the sensation changes or moves.
8. Make yourself as comfortable as possible and avoid places you are likely to be interrupted.
Mindful eating – a meditation
Eating is an activity we do every day, and yet for many of us, we are so focused on other things while we are eating, we never have the opportunity to savour the experience of eating. The following exercise is a great mindful meditation activity because it involves an activity we do every day to help us focus on the present.
The following instructions involve the use of a sultana but can be adapted to use any small item of food.
For the next few minutes, we are going to direct our attention to eating a small sultana. This is something you will have done thousands of times but probably without the same degree of focused attention. As we do this exercise, you may notice that your mind wanders. That’s ok. Every time you notice that it has wandered, just bring it back to the exercise and focus on eating the sultana.
To begin I’d like you to bring your attention to the sultana you have in your hand. Notice how it feels in your fingers. Notice the texture, the size, and how firm it is… Now notice what it looks like; the colour, and how the colour changes as light reflects off it… Notice how it smells… See if you can notice the urge to eat – is your mouth watering…do you have any sensations of hunger… And if you do, where do you notice this hunger in your body…
Now put the sultana in your mouth…Don’t bite down on it yet, just feel the sultana in your mouth… What does it feel like… Is it hard or soft – let your tongue roll it around…Notice what is happening in your body with the sultana in your mouth… Do you have the urge to bite down on it… Are you salivating….
Now bite down on the sultana and notice the change in sensation as you bite through the sultana’s skin. Notice the explosion of taste in your mouth, and slowly begin to chew… With each bite, notice the change in texture, as well as the taste in your mouth and tongue… Do you have the urge to swallow…
As you swallow your sultana, notice the sensation of swallowing, what does it feel like?…
When you are ready bring your attention back to the room. How was the experience of eating mindfully? What did you notice?
If it felt strange, and your mind kept wandering – that’s ok. Being aware of feeling a little strange, or noticing one’s mind wandering is actually a good thing. It means that your awareness has increased, which is the point of the activity.
Practice this exercise daily using any type of food. Eat one whole meal each day mindfully, focusing all your attention on the experience of eating. Notice how each mouthful of food affects your feelings of fullness.
Mindful breath – a meditation
The mindfulness of breath exercise is a particularly powerful way to help you stop and tune into their internal world. It will help you recognise and discriminate between various thoughts and emotions and understand the changing nature of our internal world. Through this exercise, you will come to appreciate those thoughts and emotions, even the most distressing ones, do not last forever. They are all transient, and you have the inherent ability to withstand uncomfortable emotions without turning to food.
Many people find this exercise challenging. They worry that they are not ‘doing it right’, or that by directing their attention inwards any negative emotions they experience may become overwhelming. This is normal and it takes time to get used to the exercise. Remember: thoughts and emotions don’t last forever and noticing your mind wandering is a good thing – it means that your awareness is increasing.
In this exercise, we are going to focus on our breath. On the sensation of breathing and the feelings associated with breathing in and out. Either close your eyes or gaze with a soft-focus towards the ground. Which-ever you prefer is fine.
For the next couple of minutes, I am going to ask you to bring your attention to your breathing. Notice the air as it comes in through your nostrils… Feel the air going into your lungs and filling the bottom of your lungs… Now notice the sensation as you breathe out. Notice your lungs compress and push the air out against your nostrils… Follow your awareness of the sensations as the air goes in…. and out…. Notice the rise and fall of your chest or the expanding of your abdomen. Focus on the change in physical sensations as you continue to breathe.
As you are breathing, you might notice your mind wander. What-ever thoughts are going through your mind, whether pleasant or unpleasant, acknowledge their presence and draw you attention back to your breathing. Back to the physical sensations of the air, as you breathe inwards and out…. Don’t get caught up in your thoughts. Don’t judge them as good or bad, just allow them to come and go. It’s normal for your mind to wander…. Again, notice your mind wandering and bring it back to your breath.
You might notice that your mind keeps wandering. This is normal and is what our minds do. Don’t judge it, just notice it, gently acknowledge that your mind has wandered and brought it back to your breath. Notice the air come in through your nostrils and into your lungs… And now, notice the sensations as you breathe out. Notice your lungs compress and push the air out against your nostrils… Follow your awareness of the sensations as the air goes in…. and out…. Notice the rise and fall of your chest or the expanding of your abdomen. Focus on the change in physical sensations as you continue to breathe…. Acknowledge the thoughts in your mind…. Let them be and bring your attention back to your breath…
Continue to focus on your breath for about 2 minutes.
Bring your attention back to the here and now, and reflect on what that experience was like.
For this exercise to be effective, aim to practice 3 x each day (for 2-3 minutes each time – slowly building up). Some people find it helpful to set a calendar reminder so that you remember to practice.