Mindfulness – How To Practice Being Present

Jess says: How many times do you see a roomful of people staring at their mobile screens, ignoring everything that is going on around them? We have become so caught up in the over-stimulating online world, that many of us have forgotten how to take time out.

Sometimes we need to unplug and fully experience and enjoy the world around us. Be human beings, not human ‘doings’. Going out in nature is one of the ways to do this, but imagining you are somewhere beautiful can often work just as well.

 Mindfulness is the act of focusing on being present in the moment, not distracted by modern life, smartphones, computers or TV. Being present (mindfulness) is an important concept to help us deal with stress and something that we should all teach our kids, too. Visit our mindfulness area int the hub to learn simple mindfulness techniques. 

Spending long periods of time on smartphones and computers can change our brain chemistry, reducing our ability to focus and concentrate. Excessive smartphone use is associated with negative effects on our focus and concentration, and the more we use them the more impaired our ability to learn becomes.1 We get less smart (the irony)! It may also negatively affect our ability to relate to other people and understand their emotions.2

Regularly practising mindfulness changes the chemistry back. Mindfulness can improve focus and attention, and has benefits in conditions such as ADHD.3 Mindfulness has also been shown to enhance memory and comprehension and to improve work performance.4 This suggests that it could significantly offset the negative changes from the over-use of smartphones and electronic gadgets.

Regular mindfulness practices can reduce anxiety, depression and stress by up to 50%5 – better than any medication. Mindfulness helps us to regulate our emotions.6 By becoming aware of, and making time for how we feel, we become much better at regulating negative emotions. Studies consistently show mindfulness is an excellent tool for managing stress.7 It also significantly improves anxiety and depression, even when someone is feeling suicidal.8

It can even slow the ageing process! After practising mindfulness, there is an improvement in brain function, emotional health, physical symptoms and even a reduction in inflammation (which is involved in many disease processes). These all mean it helps to improve the symptoms of ageing.9 By aiding brain function, mindfulness may even help conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.10

Take time to focus on beautiful moments, without distraction. Children live in the moment automatically and engage and notice the world around them in full technicolour. As we transition into adulthood, we lose this ability and switch that part of ourselves off, as modern life stresses and strains take over. But just take a moment right now and think back on the best moments of your life – were they spent on Instagram, Facebook or the Internet? Or were they real experiences with real people (or even alone)? Our best memories tend to involve natural beauty, connections with others, milestones in our lives or those of our family. Make sure you focus on the moments you want to remember in all their glory and enjoy the sensation of living.

Feel your breath, your body and the ground beneath your feet. Take time to mentally note the smaller details of the moment – the colours, sounds and smells and the sensation of being present in this moment. This is the simplest way to practise mindfulness (a basic way of meditating). It’s a really simple way to come back into your body and leave the distractions and pressures of your brain behind. Even doing this exercise a few times a day helps to become more aware is beneficial. 

How do I practise mindfulness? 

Step outside! There may be 25 things that need doing in your home or at work, but the best way to feel alive is to go outdoors often. Even if it’s cold and rainy, and especially if we are treated to a rare glimpse of the sun. Smell the air, feel the breeze on your skin, see the sky, look at the trees and plants. If you don’t take the time to notice the beauty in the world around you, you are living life in monochrome. Just 10 minutes can make all the difference.

Turn off your screens. The modern world is so distracting with computers, the internet, TVs, smartphones and tablets, that all give 24-hour access to information. Whilst wonderful, it’s important to also live your own life and bring some richness and colour back into your world. Connect with those around you and really watch and listen. Give time and space to how you are feeling and process what you have been through. Take a brief moment to watch the sun rise or set. If you have children, teach them how to play with no overstimulating toys, phones or iPads. Bring back imagination! There is one big positive to smartphones, and that’s the myriad of great mindfulness and meditation apps that can help you to briefly switch off. 

Be present in your body. Do a spot of people-watching, and observe how they walk. How many are aware of their surroundings? Often, they will be engrossed in checking their phone, or lost in thoughts and conversations. It’s too easy to forget to feel and experience the day. Bring your awareness back to your body, feel how you sit, stand, lie – breathe through your nose more slowly and thoughtfully. Feel your posture and extend upwards standing or sitting, straight and tall. Feel your weight distributed through your feet as you walk and become aware of the movement… With greater awareness, we avoid injuries and accidents from distraction and we release the stress and tension in our posture.

Include mindfulness in your daily routine. Feel the warmth and relaxation of the water on your skin in a shower, inhale the steam and smell the scent of the soap, listen to the water. When you eat, focus on the food. The colour, the texture and the taste in your mouth – chew and eat more slowly with awareness of the process. Walking up the stairs, feel the movement of your foot hitting the stairs, feel the texture of the bannister, see the colour of the sky out the window. Incorporating mindfulness into your routine makes it easy to fit in with no need to take a meditation class.

Use music to aid relaxation. Sound is powerful! It can evoke emotions and bring calm. Soothing or favourite tracks can help us recall happy memories and take you to a moment where you felt calm and relaxed. Nature or meditation tracks can make the process of mindfulness easier, or try a mindfulness app that has music for relaxation, as well as guided meditations for beginners, as well as more advanced meditations. 

Practise yoga. Mindfulness is part of many traditional practices like yoga and Tai Chi. A good yoga teacher will encourage you to focus on the sensations of your breathing and diverting your breath to areas of discomfort in your body. Many people find that yoga helps them to focus better, clear their mind and be present in their body. 

references:

  1. Wilmer, H. H., Sherman, L. E., & Chein, J. M. (2017). Smartphones and Cognition: A Review of Research Exploring the Links between Mobile Technology Habits and Cognitive Functioning. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 605. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00605 
  2. Chun JW, Choi J, Kim JY, Cho H, Ahn KJ, Nam JH, Choi JS, Kim DJ. Altered brain activity and the effect of personality traits in excessive smartphone use during facial emotion processing  Sci Rep. 2017 Sep 22;7(1):12156. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-08824-y. PMID: 28939856; PMCID: PMC5610339
  3. Schmiedeler S. Achtsamkeitsbasierte Therapieverfahren bei der Aufmerksamkeitsdefizit-/ Hyperaktivitätsstörung (ADHS) [Mindfulness-based intervention in attention-deficit-/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)] Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother. 2015 Mar;43(2):123-31. German. doi: 10.1024/1422-4917/a000341. PMID: 25769764.
  4. Mrazek MD, Franklin MS, Phillips DT, Baird B, Schooler JW. Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering Psychol Sci. 2013 May;24(5):776-81. doi: 10.1177/0956797612459659. Epub 2013 Mar 28. PMID: 23538911.
  5. Song Y, Lindquist R..Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on depression, anxiety, stress and mindfulness in Korean nursing students Nurse Educ Today. 2015 Jan;35(1):86-90. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2014.06.010. Epub 2014 Jul 9. PMID: 25066651
  6. Grecucci A, Pappaianni E, Siugzdaite R, Theuninck A, Job R. Mindful Emotion Regulation: Exploring the Neurocognitive Mechanisms behind Mindfulness Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:670724. doi: 10.1155/2015/670724. Epub 2015 Jun 7. PMID: 26137490; PMCID: PMC4475519.
  7. Sharma M, Rush SE. Mindfulness-based stress reduction as a stress management intervention for healthy individuals: a systematic review J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2014 Oct;19(4):271-86. doi: 10.1177/2156587214543143. Epub 2014 Jul 22. PMID: 25053754.
  8. Serpa JG, Taylor SL, Tillisch K. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) reduces anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation in veterans Med Care. 2014 Dec;52(12 Suppl 5):S19-24. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000202. PMID: 25397818.
  9. Fountain-Zaragoza S, Prakash RS. Mindfulness Training for Healthy Aging: Impact on Attention, Well-Being, and Inflammation. Front Aging Neurosci. 2017 Feb 3;9:11. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2017.00011. PMID: 28217093; PMCID: PMC5289973.
  10. Smart CM, Segalowitz SJ, Mulligan BP, Koudys J, Gawryluk JR. Mindfulness Training for Older Adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline: Results from a Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial J Alzheimers Dis. 2016 Apr 5;52(2):757-74. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150992. PMID: 27060951.

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