The Basics of Mindfulness

Introduction

Mindfulness is:

  • a technique used to make you feel calmer.
  • a way of reducing unwanted thoughts.
  • a stress reliever.
  • a useful skill to have for when you feel ‘triggered’.
  • something you need to practice in order to get good at it.

The Basic Principals

Mindfulness supports the idea that:

  • you can control your thinking.
  • you can control the way you feel.
  • you can feel calmer, more relaxed and peaceful when you engage in the process.
  • concentrating on something specific in the present moment will quieten all of your other thoughts.
  • deep breathing will add to the positive effects.
  • there are many ways to use the skill.
  • thinking about your past or future is the opposite of mindfulness.
  • thinking about one thing, for a designated period of time will place you in an optimal state.
  • moving your thoughts away from your mind and into something physical will help.
  • you should focus on your sensory responses in order to be mindful.

What you’ll need:

  • designated, uninterrupted time.
  • a desire to engage in the process.
  • a plan about how you’ll engage in mindfulness.
  • a willingness to allow the process to work.
  • self-discipline.
  • the relevant tools, equipment and objects if you are engaging in prompted or activity-led mindfulness

Manage your Expectations:

If you have never tried mindfulness before or if you are someone who finds it hard to relax, be aware that to start with you might:

  • find it hard.
  • find it boring.
  • struggle to control your thoughts.
  • feel like you don’t understand.
  • question whether this is for you.

If you are new to this then I’d recommend:

  • limiting your mindful time to a small amount of time; as little as one minute.
  • choosing a mindfulness technique that really appeals to you.
  • avoid negativity if it doesn’t go to plan. Refrain from belittling the process or yourself.
  • try doing very short bursts every day or several times a week.

What you need to do:

  1. Pick your mindful activity (we’ll come onto that in a minute) but for this example I’m going to use:
    ‘sitting in the garden and watching the trees move in the wind’.
  2. Prepare anything you might need:
    ‘a comfortable seat, a glass of water and a cosy cardigan’.
  3. Be sure that you won’t be interrupted:
    ‘phone turned to silent’.
  4. Notice the busyness inside of your mind. Tune in to the things you’ve been thinking about for the past 10 minutes. Make a bullet point list (inside your mind) of the key thoughts. Imagine writing it down mentally. (If it helps you can do this physically):
    ‘work on Monday, a project deadline that’s getting closer, the pile of washing that needs putting on, how tired I’m feeling, texting my mum back, dinner tonight, must feed the dogs, dishwasher needs emptying, still haven’t bought Dad a birthday present, must call the doctors about my blood test’.
  5. Pop those listed thoughts somewhere safe, you can return to them later, but for now you don’t need them.
    ‘I’ll imagine a little box inside my mind and tuck my thoughts safely inside it for now.’
  6. Set a timer for the length of time you’ve decided to engage in your mindful activity.
    ‘5 minutes.’
  7. Start by deliberately breathing deeper than usual. I find 4 seconds in followed by 4 seconds out works well.
    ‘In 1, 2, 3, 4.
    Out 1, 2, 3, 4.
    In 1, 2, 3, 4.
    Out 1, 2, 3, 4.’
  8. Now allow yourself to move (mentally) further away from your listed thoughts and closer to your chosen mindful activity.
    ‘My list is in the box. I’m sat out here in the garden. My list is tucked away. I can focus on the trees. My list is safe. I can hear the birds. I can see green, red, brown and yellow leaves. The leaves look so pretty, so many colours. I don’t need to worry about anything right now. My list is in the box.”
  9. Continue to reinforce your sensory responses.
    ‘I can see little buds, almost ready to blossom.
    I can hear people talking softly in the distance.
    I can smell a barbecue.
    I can feel a light breeze against my skin.
    I can taste coffee in my mouth.”
  10. Continue to notice the things going on around you.
    The clouds are moving fast. The speed of the breeze keeps changing. My cardi feels so soft. My toes are cold. The sun feels warm on my face. I feel content. The child laughing sounds happy. I’m glad I’m out here. It’s amazing, all of the things I’m noticing.”
  11. Be in control of unwanted thoughts, if and when they occur.
    There’s a bird in the tree. I wonder what he’s doing. What should I be doing right now. I should really be cleaning the kitchen. No those thoughts are in my box. Those thoughts are safe and I’ll tend to those things when I’m finished. Breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4 and out 1, 2, 3, 4 breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4. I feel calm when I breathe slowly. The birds sound happy. This is such a pleasant feeling. Breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4 and out 1, 2, 3, 4.
  12. Continue to focus on sensory thoughts relevant to the moment, continue to check your breathing and continue to stay in control of any other thoughts. Gradually you’ll notice your mind getting emptier and emptier. At this point you’ll be immersed in the moment. Not specifically thinking anything but pleasantly feeling the experience. Remain in this state until the end of your designated period of time.

35 Mindfulness Activities

Physical

  • A body scan (focusing on each and every part of your body, one part at a time).
  • Self-massage e.g. your hands / feet.
  • Brushing your hair.
  • Full body exfoliation.
  • Exercise e.g. walking, running, yoga or pilates.

Nature

  • In the garden.
  • At the park.
  • At the woods.
  • At the beach.
  • In a field.
  • With a pet.

Activities

  • Gardening.
  • Painting.
  • Colouring.
  • Sewing.
  • Eating.
  • Photography.

Using Social Media

The Act of Stillness

  • Lying on the bed.
  • Sitting in a chair.
  • Picking a specific spot outside.
  • People watching.
  • Bird watching.
  • Staring at a blank wall.
  • Staring at a specific colour.
  • Staring at a specific object.
  • Watching an animal.

With Sensory Prompts

  • With music.
  • With aromatherapy oils.
  • With pre-prepared foods.
  • With pre-prepared fabrics and textures.
  • With floral scents (botanical gardens).

Finally

The more you practice mindfulness the more you will:

  • develop your mindfulness skills.
  • appreciate and feel the benefits of mindfulness.
  • find the process easy and enjoyable.
  • be able to switch to a mindful state when you notice yourself having unwanted thoughts and feelings.
  • know how to get the best from the experience.