Mindful awareness is a process of non-judgmentally paying attention to the present moment with openness, flexibility and curiosity towards internal experiences such as thoughts and emotions, as well as the external environment.
Mindfulness can be very helpful for helping attention, concentration, and bringing the self back into the present moment when the mind wants to draw you into the past (ruminating on bad memories) or into the future (worries about things that haven’t happened and don’t need to be worried about).
Benefits of Mindfulness
- Increase life satisfaction: By practising mindfulness daily, we are more in tune with the present and the world around us, meaning we spend less time regretting or missing the past or worrying or wishing for the future, and more time enjoying the present moment. This practice increases our memories of the present and helps us feel life is fuller.
- Memory: Practising mindfulness helps improve memory. By being more mindful in the present, our memories for events are richer and more unique, meaning we are less likely to lose things such as keys, and have a better memory of important events.
- Improve attention and focus: Using mindfulness helps boost focus and attention to the task at hand, being aware of distractions while allowing them to pass as we focus on the present moment.
- Improve physical health: Mindfulness techniques also improve our physical health by relieving stress, lowering bloody pressure and treating heart disease.
- Improve sleep: While not the purpose of mindfulness, it nonetheless often results in relaxation which lowers stress and helps people fall and stay asleep. Reducing stress and anxiety means fewer thoughts keeping us up at night, and allows our bodies to relax for a longer, richer night’s sleep.
- Chronic pain relief: Mindfulness is used frequently for managing chronic pain in addition to, or in place of medication. The nature of mindfulness practice encourages non-judgmental acceptance of pain which helps individuals to manage chronic pain and gain enjoyment from life.
- Mental health: Mindfulness is also gaining popularity in the treatment of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, substance use, personality disorders, eating disorders and couple’s conflicts. Mindfulness helps manage symptoms of these disorders and resulting emotions non-judgementally, and engage with life.
- Reduced emotional reactivity: Mindfulness has also been linked with less emotional reactivity due to increased acceptance of emotional experience. Emotions tend to get the better of us when we don’t want to feel them and they become overwhelming. By being mindful of emotional experiences, we actually gain more control over them, and subsequently can be more self-contained in the face of adversity.
- Cognitive flexibility: Cognitive flexibility is crucial for mental health. When we have an idea of how we want events to go, changes to the plan can lead us to feel out of control, hopeless about situations, overwhelmed and stressed. By being more mindful we have a greater capacity for stress and changes to “the plan,” leading us to be more flexible in our minds and in response to setbacks.
- Relationship satisfaction: Mindfulness practice has also been linked with satisfaction in relationships. When we are mindful we spend less time in our minds and more attention to the environment (including other people) around us; this makes us better listeners, better empathisers and better communicators.
Mindfulness in Practice
- Mindful breathing: Find a comfortable place to sit, and begin by taking a few slow, deep breaths, and relax. Breathe normally and place your hand on your stomach. Feel your stomach rise and fall under your hand as you take in and exhale. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, noticing as you do, the sensation of the air going in through your nostrils. See how far down your throat you can feel it. Notice the changes in temperature in your nostrils as you breathe in, and in your mouth as you breathe out. Notice all the places in your chest and stomach that expand and relax as you breathe. Observe all the places your clothes shift as you breathe. Observe all the sensations present as you breathe, as would a curious child. If you notice thoughts attempt to distract you from the task, acknowledge them and gently bring your awareness back to the breath.
- The “fives”: Take a moment to settle yourself, maybe concentrate on your breathing for a minute to calm your body and mind and allow you to move from the mind into the present moment. Now begin by observing five things that you can feel: this may be the pressure of your feet on the floor, or the feeling of your eyelids closing as you blink. Try to pick varied sensations you do not usually notice. Then bring your awareness to five things you can hear: perhaps bird calls, traffic, or the sound of your computer. Open your awareness to all the sounds in the present moment. Finally, bring your awareness to five things you can see; rather than objects such as “chair” or “door,” try to notice unusual things such as colour, shadow and light, texture and patterns. Finally, bring these senses together, letting your awareness shift between all the things you feel, hear and see, allowing yourself to become truly in touch with the environment around you.
- Mindful eating: This can be done with a specific piece of food such as a sultana or a piece of chocolate, or with your regular meal. The aim of this practice is to expand your experience and pleasure from eating. Sit comfortably with a minimum of distraction. Now take a small piece of food and bring it to your lips, savour the smells from the food, and the sensation of it touching your closed lips. What temperature is it? Now, place the food inside your mouth, taking care not to swallow just yet. Observe the texture, firmness and taste of the food, as well as responses it elicits in you, is your mouth watering? Now take a bite, notice the changes in taste, texture and all the sensations present. As you swallow the food, notice changes happening then, how far down can you feel it?
These exercises are a sample of mindfulness practices, if you would like to practice these tasks, learn more mindfulness practices or learn more about how mindfulness practice can benefit you considering booking an appointment with me.
Author: Dr Rose Gillett, B Psych (Hons), D Psych (Clinical), MAPS.
Dr Rose Gillett is a Clinical Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and couples. She is passionate about helping her clients achieve their goals, and has particular interest areas in attachment concerns in adults and young people, PTSD, and alcohol and drug addiction.
To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Dr Rose Gillett, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
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