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Mindfulness and it's benefits

What is mindfulness? What comes to mind when you think of mindfulness? Do you imagine a group of people sitting cross legged in silent solidarity while they try to clear their minds? It can be hard to imagine this type of meditation in the busyness of modern life. Fortunately, there are many types of meditation or mindfulness that can fit into a busy schedule.

Mindfulness is defined as the state of being fully engaged  and connected to what is happening in the present moment often in the immediate environment. Mindfulness is not thought stopping or clearing the mind but rather drawing attention to the present moment by attending to the five senses. This includes noticing the physical world (smells, sounds, sensations) and observing thoughts without judgement and then bringing attention gently back to the present moment. The aim is to acknowledge that the mind has wandered and then return one's attention to the present.

Who does it benefit? Mindfulness can be beneficial for everyone but is beneficial for those experiencing common health conditions such as depression and anxiety because it helps an individual focus on the immediate environment instead of negative thoughts. Mindfulness can be a good antidote for rumination and thus reduces stress and worry. Over time, mindfulness training can teach the mind the skill of being present.

Is there evidence for mindfulness? Yes, there is a significant amount of evidence that suggests that mindfulness can help reduce insomnia, stress, anxiety and worry. Recent research has even found it to be as effective as CBT for common conditions such as depression and anxiety.

What if I'm keen but short on time? The benefits of mindfulness meditation can be achieved in just a few minutes a day. If you can fit in a cup of tea or surfing the web on your phone, then there might be room for 5-10 minutes of mindfulness a day.

What's the best way to start? I find the best way to start mindfulness is by following a guided meditation program. There are several Apps on the market such as the headspace App, which charges users a fee. Free or low cost apps include the smiling mind, Calm or Buddhify. Alternatively, mindfulness can be searched for in the App Store or Google Play. I do not receive any incentive from these Apps and am recommending them based on client feedback.

Are there more active forms of mindfulness? For those who prefer more active forms of meditation mindful colouring or talking a mindful walk may suit.

What is relaxation and how can it help? While mindfulness aims to help the individual become alert and present in the moment, relaxation is aimed at changing a feeling state to that of feeling more calm. Both are valuable. An excellent relaxation technique is progressive muscle relaxation. Here's a free relaxation recording from Western Sydney University. For those who are interested in Yoga and deep relaxation the iRest Yoga Nidra program may be of interest.

Can mindfulness be built into day to day life? Absolutely! Mindfulness practice can be brought into daily life by bringing your five senses to any experience. One of my favourite mindfulness activities is mindful hand washing or applying hand lotion.

Any activity can be turned into a mindfulness activity but it's easiest when there's rich sensory input such as walking in nature or showering. Mindful eating is also practical and involves noticing the smells, textures, temperatures and colours when savouring food.  The next time you engage in these activities try noticing the sounds, smells, textures, and colours that are present.

What is mindful eating and how can it help me? Eating mindfully involves bringing the five sense to the experience of eating by noticing the sounds, textures, smells, and colours associated with eating food. This can also involve noticing our responses to food without giving into it. For example, noticing our respond to the smell of freshly baked bread without necessarily consuming this food.

Mindful eating can help an individual to slow down their food consumption and help them to tune into their bodily internal cues of hunger and satiety. It can also assist them to distinguish the difference between hunger and thirst, between eating out of hunger and eating for comfort or eating to relieve boredom. Research tells us that mindful eating can assist with over eating or binge eating.

How can I measure my progress? Progress can certainly be estimated intuitively. However, biofeedback measures a person's neural activity or heart rate and gives a person feedback while they meditate so that an individual can adjust their approach. Muse is a product that measures neural activity and provides audio feedback by stilling or increasing nature sounds. While an expensive option, it may help those that want to measure their progress. Again, I do not receive any benefit from noting this product.

In my practice, I often recommend mindfulness as an intervention to improve their well being. I find that those who engage in mindfulness report it improves their symptoms. It's also a great lifelong skill to increase resilience and be present.

Article written by Tena Davies, Psychologist. The aim of this article is to give you ideas on well being. Please note this article is not intended to replace therapy.

Tena Davies is a Psychologist based in inner city Melbourne. Tena has expertise in psychological counselling with adolescents and adults. She also works as a cyber expert providing cyber safety education to schools and professionals. As a Psychologist, Tena believes in helping clients to gain insight into their difficulties and teaching them new skills to grow and thrive. Please see www.tenadavies.com for more information.

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