You may or may not have heard of mindfulness meditation before, and often my clients have not heard of the term and if they have, they are not sure of what it contains. So as I often spend time defining mindfulness in my sessions with clients, I thought it would be useful to write a blog on mindfulness to describe what it is, what it is helpful for, and how we teach it to children through to adults. I've taken a photo of a flotilla of origami sail boats we've been making with the children that attend Grove Psychology as a way of introducing mindfulness meditation to children. The children love making origami and it's a fun way to teach the core aspects of mindfulness, particularly "paying attention to the moment". I'll describe more on that in a moment.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that has become increasingly popular in Western societies and in particular in psychology. Mindfulness meditation is the act of noticing in great detail, being in the moment, and being observant and non-judgemental. To clarify, I'll give you an example. Most of us at some point would have experienced a time where we have been on "auto-pilot" - doing things such as driving a car without noticing how we arrived at our destination. We competently drove there, but we had no real recollection of how we got there. Our thoughts were elsewhere, we were not "in the moment". Similarly, in our fast paced society we often do many things at once, such as eating and watching television, and as such we tend not to notice in great detail what we are doing. So mindfulness encourages us to slow down, to notice in detail, and to bring our thoughts back to the task rather than allowing them to wander or to have a "monkey-mind" with lots of racing thoughts. It is also encourages us to be observant and non-judgemental - to be able to identify that we are having worrying thoughts or we are preoccupied with an upcoming deadline, and to accept these thoughts for what they are - just thoughts.
The benefits of Mindfulness
Increasingly, psychologists and other health practitioners are discovering the benefits of mindfulness for a variety of presentations including depression, anxiety, trauma, and chronic pain. Mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in classroom settings and in the workplace. Mindfulness has been demonstrated to be helpful for people who tend to worry a lot and spend time over-thinking things, often rehashing or going over the same issue in their mind over and over again. Mindfulness can help these people learn to let those thoughts go, and to re-focus on a task (traditionally focusing on one's breath, but it could be anything). With continued practice, people who tend to over-think often report a reduction in worrying thoughts and improvement in anxiety symptoms. For people who have experienced trauma, mindfulness is helpful in gaining a sense of calmness and "grounding" back in the here and now, rather than the past trauma.
How to practice Mindfulness
There are many techniques to practicing mindfulness, so long as they keep to core concepts of noticing, being in the moment, and non-judgemental observation. As an example you could try eating mindfully by: turning off all other distractions such as the t.v. or radio; chewing each mouthful with more chews than usual; noticing the different sensations and flavours; moving the food around to different parts of the mouth and noticing the difference; and putting down the fork between bites so as to slow down. What did you notice? Perhaps you noticed that the food changes flavour the more you chew, or that perhaps it is saltier than you initially thought.
At Grove Psychology, I typically demonstrate mindfulness to children by practicing 'belly breathing' (breathing with the diaphragm) and by doing origami. Origami encourages the children to focus on the paper and the folds they are making (the here and now, in the moment), they have to slow down in order to get a neater fold (attention to the task), and noticing the outcome - did it look like what we were trying to make (non-judgement/observant)? With adults, we go through a series of noticing different sensations and changing focus, encouraging them to bring their focus back to the task. I also encourage our clients to download the wonderful Australian app Smiling Mind, which has designed guided mindfulness activities for all ages. It's available on both iphone and android phones, and it's free!
Mindfulness and counselling
It is important to note, however, that mindfulness on its own may not be enough to prevent the problem or the symptoms still persist despite the use of mindfulness. In my practice at Grove Psychology, I see mindfulness as a tool in the toolbox. It is often one of several strategies we may be incorporating based on the information provided by the client and the symptoms they are experiencing. You may like to speak to one of the psychologists at Grove Psychology if you would like to learn more about mindfulness and the benefits for mental wellbeing.
More information on mindfulness and the benefits can be found here: https://www.thehappinesstrap.com/mindfulness