Maintaining control over our own thoughts and emotions can be difficult at times.
We often find ourselves thinking about traumatic past events or an upcoming event in the future that is causing some anxiety.
Constantly worrying about past or future events can eventually have a negative impact affect on your physical and mental health.
Fortunately, there is a simple technique that anyone can use to live in the present and avoid negative thoughts.
It is a meditative practice called mindfulness.
Mindfulness encompasses a range of techniques that can help you live in the moment.
It is a liberating concept which can help you get the most out of life while reducing the likelihood of stress and anxiety.
Where did mindfulness come from?
Mindfulness techniques were first developed by buddhist monks.
The monks believed that remaining fixated on past experiences and concerns about the future was a form of suffering.
They saw mindfulness as a way to live in the present, avoiding suffering and reaching enlightenment.
They would often use meditation to reach a state of mindfulness, increase their awareness of the world, self-knowledge, and wisdom.
Mindfulness became popular in western nations largely thanks to the work of an American professor named Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.
He discovered that mindfulness techniques could be used to treat stress, anxiety, pain, and a variety of medical conditions.
Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists began using mindfulness techniques in the 1970s to treat patients with various mental conditions.
Over the years, researchers have confirmed that mindfulness can be helpful for reducing the symptoms of many conditions including:
- Substance abuse
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Diabetes-specific distress
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
- Chronic pain
Researchers have also discovered that practising mindfulness can improve a person’s emotional stability, mood, memory, and cognition.
By practicing mindfulness and living in the moment you won’t feel trapped in your head, reliving negative experiences or being worried about the future.
It is a liberating feeling that can dramatically reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
How do you practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness techniques are designed to keep your mind fully focussed on the present.
Each technique can be placed into one of two categories — formal and informal mindfulness techniques.
Formal mindfulness techniques are ones that are performed with the goal of attaining mindfulness, like meditation or mindful listening.
Informal mindfulness techniques are ones that you apply while performing daily tasks like talking to a friend or brushing your teeth.
Some of the most popular mindfulness techniques include:
The body scan
The Body Scan technique focuses on your body for a short period.
Start by lying on your back with your arms to your sides (palms towards the ceiling).
Lay still while focussing on your breath.
After a few minutes, turn your focus to your body.
Start with your toes and gradually move to the top of your head, a few inches at a time.
Think about how each part of your body feels.
Is it numb or sore?
Does it feel heavy or light?
How does your clothing feel against your skin?
There are many videos available online to help you perform a body scan.
Mindful Listening is an easy way to focus on something or someone other than yourself.
It is an excellent way to create an inner stillness and a sense of freedom.
You will escape persistent thoughts about the past or future and simply enjoy the present.
You can practice mindful listening in many ways — while listening to music, having a conversation, or listening to any other repeating sound.
Mindful listening with a partner is particularly rewarding.
Have your partner speak for 3 minutes without interrupting them.
Listen carefully to what they are saying and how they are saying it.
You can close your eyes if you like or watch their facial expressions if it helps you understand their words.
Avoid being judgemental as you listen.
After 3 minutes, it will be your turn to speak.
Talk about anything you feel like — the topic doesn’t matter.
The act of focussing your attention is all that matters.
You can practice mindful listening whenever you want.
In fact, it is one of the easiest ways to improve your relationships.
The people around you will come to see you as a great communicator and someone who really listens to what they say.
If you are performing mindful listening in an organised group, you may ask questions of one another after the mindful listening session has been completed.
These questions will focus on how you felt while listening and what you learned.
The raisin exercise
This is an exercise that is very useful for people trying mindfulness for the first time.
Simply grab a raisin (or any other piece of fruit) and give it all of your focus.
Pretend that you are seeing a raisin for the very first time and are trying to understand it.
What does the raisin look like?
What does it feel like?
What does it do to your skin when holding it?
Is it squishy or solid?
What does it smell like?
Finally, what does it taste like?
By forcing your focus onto one thing, you will be living in the present.
If you notice any unwanted thoughts creeping into your head, shrug them off and continue examining your raisin.
After a few minutes, your mind will become clear and you will feel a sense of inner peace.
This is another simple exercise that you can perform at any time.
Find a location with a view of some sort.
Carefully look at everything in front of you.
Don’t categorise each item that you see, but concentrate on its appearance.
Look at the colour, shape, movement, and texture of each item.
Notice how the view changes when there is a breeze.
Don’t be judgemental about what you are seeing.
If your mind wanders, gently push those thoughts away and get back to examining the appearance of what you see.
This is a form of mindfulness meditation that helps you understand more about yourself.
It will help you become more peaceful, open, and self-aware.
Start by sitting down.
Take some slow deep breaths while settling into your body and mind.
After a few minutes, focus your attention on yourself and ask questions like “Who am I?”, “How does it feel to be me?”.
Focussing on yourself might be difficult at first.
It’s important to use self-compassion if any negative thoughts appear.
You will eventually learn more about your true nature and gain self confidence in your own abilities.