Mindfulness is back in the news again with the announcement that teenagers in the UK a due to have mindfulness lessons as part of an experiment to determine if the classes can help prevent mental illness. I’ve spoken a little about Mindfulness in blog posts before and it’s interesting timing as we hosted a live chat, at work, all around mindfulness just last week! I’m a huge mindfulness fan, though admittedly it took me a while to get into it. Once I had identified which types of mindfulness were best for me, I found there was a huge amount of benefits to practising it regularly.
As I was an inpatient on a CBT based program that used DBT techniques alongside the other therapy, mindfulness played a big part in my admission. At the moment there’s a lot of hype, and with that negative press, about mindfulness. People are calling it a bit of a buzz word but I have seen some real benefits of using it. I feel that there’s a huge place for mindfulness within normal living, it doesn’t have to be part of some great meditative routine that takes chunks of time out of your schedule that you really don’t have time to spare.
I first came across aspects of mindfulness and relaxation techniques through my mentoring during my A-levels; doing progressive relaxation really helped me to ground myself and get myself together a little before exams that completely terrified me. The idea was simple, focus on one thing (breathing) and gradual relax… it was mindfulness and I hadn’t really realised! Th Oxford Dictionary gives two definitions for mindfulness:
- The quality or state of being concious or aware of something
- A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations
My understanding of mindfulness combines the two quite nicely; through becoming aware of one thing (often helping to focus in the present moment), mindfulness enables you to find a calmness and acceptance of one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. The idea is not to force yourself into a state of calm zen-ness but to find a pause in the a busy mind and bring the focus to one place.
My favourite mindfulness activities are:
- Counting the breath– simply counting in breaths in sets of 10, then out breaths in sets of 10; I find this activity particularly helpful if I am panicking or my head is very busy as after a while I will be aware that I am just counting rather than my mind being full of racing thoughts or feelings.
- Mindfulness of an object– where you bring your attention to an object (noticing different things about it using your senses); I used to do this as an inpatient but using a tropical fish in the fish tank… a fellow patient suggested picking one fish and just noticing where it was moving in the tank and what it was doing
- Inner-outer experience- you move your attention between internal sensations and your external environment in this exercise, I found the switch worked well to help me to focus
Finally I wanted to share my top mindfulness books, there are a lot to choose from but I feel these are the top choices (in no particular order):
- How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness– This is a fab book that was loaned to me in inpatient by a lovely lady early on in my admission when I was struggling a lot. It gives you lots of little mindfulness activities you can do (a lot of which are really portable and practical for everyday life).
- Living in the Moment: with Mindfulness Meditations– this was the book used by the ward’s assistant psychologist, it contains a really nice range of exercises to try, I particularly liked the style they’re written in and having a lot of choice to see what fits for you
- Moments of Mindfulness– This was a gift from another lovely Naomi friend, it’s beautiful and calming!
- The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-stress art therapy for busy people– there’s a lot of hype around ‘adult colouring’ (which always sounds like you’re going to be colouring in porn pics!) but this is a nice booked filled with quite repetitive patterns that are a good distraction to colour in. It’s also reasonably priced and small so more portable than some of the other larger books
- The Power of Self-Compassion: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to End Self-Criticism and Build Self-Confidence (New Harbinger Compassion-Focused Therapy)
- Mindful Compassion– The final two books are from the Compassionate Mind Foundation, CMT played a big and important part in my inpatient stay and it really feels like a good way to tackle self criticism. A lot of the work centres around creating a compassionate image through mindfulness exercises that enable you to experience compassion. There’s a lot of free materials on the CMF website, it’s definitely worth a look at!
I also found the Headspace take 10 app really helpful as a way to get into mindfulness meditation.
Overall, I think mindfulness is a bit of buzz word at the moment and perhaps it won’t be long before the hype dies down, however I think it has a huge amount of potential and is worth investigating… try and find something that fits with you and what you need from it. It doesn’t suit anyone and part of me worries that by introducing it into the curriculum, young people may be put off in that way that activities in school often dissuades, but if it’s done right and enables young people to make their own choices and decisions about it, then perhaps it could have a positive impact on mental wellbeing.
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