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THE PATH TO MINDFULNESS

To begin with, what is mindfulness? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and without judgment. Mindfulness is an awareness and curiosity of the moment. Although most people associate mindfulness and meditation with eastern religions, mindfulness is for everyone. Mindfulness does not require you to change your beliefs, there is no religious component to mindfulness.

We have fallen into the trap of multi-tasking. When we multi-task our attention is divided between a number of activities and our minds are racing ahead thinking about what needs to do be done next. This is the cause of stress, anxiety and overwhelm Have you ever arrived home from somewhere and can’t remember driving home? You were basically operating on “auto-pilot”. This is the opposite of mindfulness. When we practice mindfulness, we are consciously aware of what is happening around us, using our five senses – ask yourself what do you see, what do you hear, what do you smell, feel or taste in that moment. Mindfulness can be practiced any time, any where simply by bringing your awareness to and focusing on the present moment.

Bring your attention to your thoughts, feelings and everything else. It’s being aware of your feelings and letting go of any thoughts that come into your mind. Some people find it difficult to practice mindfulness because they think they have to empty their mind. Notice any thoughts that come into your mind and let it go without judgment, don’t label the thoughts as good or bad, just let them come and go. It can be challenging to quiet the constant mental chatter that goes on in our heads eg. I must remember to phone so-and-so, or what should I make for dinner tonight, or I need to do this or that, so we are thinking about the future instead of being present. Or we may be ruminating over an earlier conversation or thinking about a past event or experience. As adults, we are constantly either living in the past or in the future. Have you noticed how children are totally engaged in the present? When children play, they are totally immersed in whatever they are doing.

You can practice mindfulness when you are doing every day tasks like brushing your teeth or washing the dishes – notice the bubbles, how does the water feel? You can also practice mindful eating. What does the food taste like, is it sweet or salty, what is the texture, is it smooth, is it crunchy, is it hot or cold? Another mindful activity is colouring-in. There are many adult colouring books available or you could simply download pictures off the internet. Mandalas are very popular and there are hundreds available on the net. Creating art is a great way to practice mindfulness.

The simplest form of mindfulness is simply to focus on your breath – the inhale and the exhale. Try this now. Sit up straight, put one hand on your belly and the other hand relaxing on your lap. Take in a deep breath through your nose, focusing on the inhale, hold it for a few seconds and then exhale from your mouth. Repeat. To bring this into every day life, practice deep breathing before you start a task eg. Before you open your emails, before you start your car to go somewhere.

Be mindful in your communication with others. Be present. Practice active listening. As well as focusing on what they are saying, notice their body language as well. At home, be mindful with your kids. Put your phone down or turn away from your computer when you are talking to them. Give them your full attention.

You can also go for a mindfulness walk. As you walk, notice everything going on around you. What do you see? What do you hear? Is the sky blue or cloudy? Do you hear birds chirping? What can you feel? Can you feel the warmth of the sun on your skin? What are your feelings? Notice your emotions. Do you feel relaxed and happy? Mindfulness enriches our experience of every day life. Next time you are waiting in line or waiting for something, instead of getting frustrated by the wait, practice mindfulness. Take a few deep breaths then notice what is going on around you.

So what are the benefits of mindfulness?

  • it helps you self-regulate your emotions so you are less reactive
  • it wards off depression
  • it reduces worry and anxiety
  • it helps lower stress
  • it promotes self-compassion
  • it increases focus and concentration
  • it helps you fall asleep
  • it lowers blood pressure
  • it can reduce chronic pain
  • it improves digestion

Mindfulness is great for kids too, especially children with ADD/ADHD, children on the autism spectrum or children with anxiety or anger issues.

  • It helps children become more focused and less anxious
  • It helps increase levels of concentration, empathy and impulse control
  • It helps them pay attention to their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
  • It helps reduce feelings of anxiety, stress and even depression
  • It helps children be calmer, more purposeful, more decisive and patient.

The terms mindfulness and meditation are often used interchangeably but there is a difference. Mindfulness can be described as the awareness of some-thing whereas meditation is the awareness of “no-thing”. Mindfulness is a form of meditation. Mindfulness meditation can involve breathing exercises, guided imagery, an awareness of your body and mind, and muscle and body relaxation. You can use a meditation app such as Insight Timer. Download it on your phone and when you have a few minutes, practice mindful meditation.

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