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Mindfulness & Meditation Made Easy

Mindfulness and meditation are words that we often hear floating around due to the multitude of benefits that comes with them, one of which is stress reduction. Unfortunately for many, some common misconceptions mean that people put mindfulness in the ‘too hard basket’. Countless times I have heard people tell me that mindfulness isn’t working for them or they’re not good at it. When we dig deeper into their expectations of mindfulness, they believe that it is all about relaxation or completely clearing their mind of thoughts. Although feeling blissed out and zen might be a lovely by-product of mindfulness for some, it isn’t actually about being relaxed – it’s about being present and aware.

Mindless vs Mindful?

Have you ever been talking to somebody and halfway through the conversation realised you had no idea what they were saying? Or maybe you were reading a book, but when you got to the bottom of the page you had no idea what you read? Your mind may have wandered off somewhere to the future, like your ever-growing to-do list or planning what to have for dinner. Or perhaps it had drifted back to the past, and you were remembering something instead. When this happens, we are being mindless – the opposite of mindfulness.

What did you miss by tuning out and being mindless? Was your mind in the future, possibly coming up with versions of what could go wrong for that big presentation or date tonight? Or remembering that really embarrassing time you said something stupid in high school? Those thoughts and memories could be tricking your brain into believing that there is a ‘threat’ that it needs to fight against or run away from, so it activates the stress response. By being aware of our thoughts and feelings, we can learn to redirect the mind back to something in the present and remind yourself that you’re not in high school or on that date at the moment, so there’s no need to panic.

Mindfulness and Meditation – What is the difference?

Mindfulness is the act of being present, and meditation is a tool to help us do that. While our mind has the ability to jump around to the past and the future, our body is anchored here in the present. That’s why in meditation, we often focus on the breath or the body to help quieten the mind, but this takes practice! It can be helpful to imagine that your mind is like the sky and your thoughts as clouds. The goal of meditation is not to create a clear blue sky, but to notice the clouds as they form, let them float away and return to the breath or body. Some days this might be relaxing and easy to achieve, and other days your thoughts might be jumping around, making it more challenging. The key is to know that thoughts are inevitable, so try to notice and be aware without judging yourself or the experience.

Meditation isn’t the only way to be mindful. In fact, you’re probably already being mindful and may not have known it. Have you ever listened to music or played sport and been completely focused on that moment? You were being mindful. Perhaps when you eat, you really savour the taste and texture of your food. That’s being mindful. Any time you give your full attention to what you can see, hear, feel, taste or touch, that’s being mindful.

“Some days it will be easy to let go of thoughts and focus on the breath while others it may be more challenging.”

Some tips to help you practice Mindfulness & Meditation

  • It can be helpful to drop expectations that mindfulness or meditation is all about clearing the mind. Mindfulness isn’t about stopping thoughts; it’s about noticing them and choosing not to play into the stories they tell you.
  • Stress reduction can come from mindfulness by being aware of when we are having unhelpful thoughts or strong emotions and choosing to shift our focus onto something in the present like the breath or the body. Try to manage expectations that it will always be a relaxing experience. Some days it will be easy to let go of thoughts and focus on the breath while others it may be more challenging. Try to notice your experience without judgement.

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  • Mindfulness isn’t a quick fix. It takes practice! On days where your thoughts are jumping around, continue to notice them and redirect your mind to the body, the breath or something that you are finding positive in the present moment.
  • Meditation is a formal tool to help us be mindful. There are also informal types of mindfulness such as mindfully eating by noticing the tastes and textures of your food, mindful movement such as yoga or really paying attention to your surroundings and mindful conversation which can foster connection.

Elicia Clarke is a Psychologist and Freelance Writer. You can follow her on Instagram via @thepawsativeproject

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