The practice of mindfulness has become increasing popular in the psychology and life coaching arena of late, however mindfulness is in no way a new concept. Many believe its origins stem from Buddhism, however Hindus practiced mindfulness over 2,500 years ago.
So what exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness includes concentration and continual re-focus on a specific aspect or a range of aspects that are occurring in the present moment. For example, the breath, the feeling of the wind against your skin, sounds you are hearing, how your body feels, what you can smell and the sensations you can feel.
What is the opposite of mindfulness?
Mindlessness is when we have our attention focused on the past or future. We get lots of practice at being mindless, it’s our minds default setting. It includes ruminating, analysing, problem solving or day dreaming; essentially it’s on auto pilot.
When comparing mindfulness to mindlessness it’s important to understand that both functions have important roles in our lives. One important difference between human beings and other animals is our ability to direct our attention between the past, present and future.
This has helped us survive in two ways:
Firstly, by focusing on the past we use information that we have learned to keep us out of trouble in the present. By focusing on the future we can plan or envision new ways of doing things that can be used in the present.
Secondly, we often use mindlessness as a coping mechanism, when we do not like the present moment we take ourselves to the past or future. At times this can be a sufficient coping strategy but in some cases this can cause much bigger problems especially when it is solely relied on to escape or avoid unhelpful thoughts, feelings or memories.
Being mindless is our default setting, and we are unaware when we are in this state of mind because we are not there to notice. To notice, we would have to be mindful.
There are a range of benefits of practicing mindfulness skills, including but not limited to:
- The improved ability to manage stress and anxiety and anger levels
- The improved ability to handle painful thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations and memories, in a way that has far less impact on your life
- Improved concentration and attention
- Enhanced sense of spirituality, self-love and compassion
Mindfulness uses the mind process of observing rather than thinking. The observing part of your mind does not have an opinion, any desires, likes or dislikes, it’s only process is to observe.
Here is a a quick mindfulness activity you can do anywhere to access this observing part of your mind.
Firstly set a timer on your phone or watch for a desired amount of time. If you are new to mindfulness, a few minutes will be great.
Sit in a comfortable position, or lie on the floor and take some deep breaths in and out of your nose.
Notice your stomach filling up like a balloon and gently deflating.
Now notice the sounds you can hear, once you have noticed a sound label it and refocus on your breath.
Every time a new sound comes up silently label it and re-focus on your stomach filing up like a balloon.
From time to time the sounds may trigger a thought or feeling and you may become temporarily mindless.
Try not to get frustrated by this, this is a natural and normal thing that minds do.
As soon as you notice this, re-focus on your breathing and any sounds in the room.
Continue doing this until your timer is up.
Take this sense of mindfulness out into your day!