What is Mindfulness ?
Mindfulness is a natural skill available to us all, a way of taking care of ourselves and coming ‘home’. It is the simple practice of engaging all our senses and bringing full attention to whatever is there for us in the present moment without judgment. Through consistent practice and awareness of body, breath and mind, emotional stability, grounding and freedom is experienced.
Mindfulness is a way of directly experiencing the body and our inner being-ness. By listening and attuning in this way we can re-establish a whole new way of relating with our self and bring unity to the body and mind. We can find a way of being at peace, of discovering a renewed sense of compassion and empathy for our self, and others.
“It helps to make the point there is nothing particularly mystical about meditating or being mindful. All it involves is paying attention to your experience from moment to moment. This leads to new ways of being in your life because the present moment whenever it is recognized and honoured, reveals a very special magical power; it is the only time that any of us ever has. The present is the only time we have to know anything. It is the only time we have to perceive, to learn, to act, to change, to heal. That is why we value moment to moment awareness so highly. While we may have to teach ourselves how to do it through practicing, the effort is its own end.” - Jon Kabat–Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living)
How Can Mindfulness Help?
Mindfulness practice is a tool you can use to help deal with the stress of everyday life.
Life skills training in the management of stress is a key preventative of many mental health problems. The regular practice of Yoga and Mindfulness will empower you with the tools and techniques you need to bring calm and balance to your life. Mindfulness training will help you to recognize stress symptoms in your body, increase your awareness of stress ‘triggers’ , stress-creating thoughts and their affect.
There are many sources of stress;
- Social - Relationships, Life Changes, Work
- Physical - Health Problems and Environmental
- Psychological - Intense Emotions
Stress can be helpful, particularly in short term ‘flight or fight’ situations. To a certain level, stress is energizing and challenging in a way that is motivating and useful. Stress becomes problematic when it accumulates and we become exhausted and depleted. Symptoms of stress are very physical as well as psychological, involving the autonomic nervous, immune and endocrine systems. When a person is anxious they become preoccupied and distracted, thoughts become repetitive, automatic. Consequently our muscles tighten, sleep may be affected. Often we deal with stress in ways that are not helpful; we tend to ‘soldier on’, become focused on externals and unaware of the impact of stress on our body and mind, we may avoid exercise, drink too much coffee, alcohol, and eat poorly. Prolonged stress can predispose to depression, impact on physical health, work performance, safety and relationships.
Science can now demonstrate some of the many benefits of Mindfulness practice, both physical and mental, these include;
- Reduction of anxiety and stress.
- Prevention of depression.
- Balancing of mood and promotion of recovery from depression.
- Physiological benefits including immune support.
Other benefits experienced through regular mindfulness practice include;
- A deeper awareness of the nature of our thoughts and feelings.
- Resulting clarity which aids learning, decision making, creativity and productivity.
- Improved general sense of well being.
- Deeper sense of connection that enhances our ability to relate to others, communicate, and establish healthy attachments.
- More frequent moments of gratitude, wonder and playfulness and spontaneity.
How Does Mindfulness Work?
The practice of Mindfulness involves focusing your attention on the sensations of the present moment. To begin with we focus on the physical sensations of the body and the breath. With time we learn to sense our thoughts and emotions, and cultivate an awareness of our consciousness, a witnessing. We simply observe, not judging or reacting, just sensing and accepting. As the mind settles into the moment, thoughts become just one sensation amongst others that come and go. We fall into a space where the body and mind ‘let go’ and relax, we are at ease in the moment. As we practice returning to this space it gives a sense of being at ‘home’ with ourselves. Many experience this as a feeling of ‘coming home’ or ‘coming to our senses’.
Through regular practice we tend to gravitate to this place, awareness and calm begin to pervade into our day to day actions and lives. The awareness gained from the regular practice of mindfulness techniques can empower us to manage our responses to stressful experiences, situations and overwhelming emotions. We learn to manage day to day challenges and to regain on a daily basis, calm and balance.
How is Mindfulness Practiced?
Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways: with eyes open or closed; walking, sitting still, running, exercising and while ‘doing’ day to day actions. The combination of yogic movement, breathing and mindfulness is particularly helpful, especially for those who naturally need movement to relax or sit still. Many like to work their bodies to begin their practice finding it conducive to move into relaxation poses after cardiovascular exertion. There are as many ways as there are people.
Surprisingly simple, mindfulness however is not a ‘quick fix’ and takes the ‘intention’ and ‘effort’ to be consistent in your practice. In order to be present in the moment we need to cultivate acceptance, curiosity and open-mindedness. We need to not be focused on results and expectations. It helps in the beginning to have the presence of another person (or community) who have had experience and are encouraging and sensitive to your individual needs and journey.
Download Mindful Yoga by Jon Kabat Zinn
Our mindfulness classes and workshops are taught by Sydel Weinstein. Sydel has completed a Professional Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction retreat with Jon-Kabat Zinn in 2009. Sydel has been exploring mindfulness and stress reduction for over thirty years and is also available for private consultations and specialized bookings on yoga and mindfulness trainings for stress, trauma and depression.