I have been meaning to write about this one for some time now. As a part of their wellness plan, nearly all of my clients will get a recommendation for some sort of relaxation activity. Commonly this will include Mindfulness or Meditation.
No longer just the realms of hippies, gurus and strange religious practices, Meditation and Mindfulness are becoming more and more popular. There are a number of studies that show that these practices are helpful with stress reduction and coping with pain, including fibromyalgia and other muscular skeletal issues [1-4].
Meditation and Mindfulness are something that I have practised on and off for years and comes with the different spiritual and self-development work that I have undertaken. As a part of my life for so long, I think I have taken it for granted as a normal activity and have made the assumption that people actually know what I am talking about when I say “I think Meditation would be really helpful with reducing your stress levels”. Unsurprisingly I often get blank looks back.
So here’s where I rectify that!
Meditation and Mindfulness 101
Firstly, I want to say that there are many different types of Meditation. There are probably as many different forms or types as there are spiritual practices and self-help personal development books and apps. There are loads of guided Meditations on YouTube, apps and lovely music to bliss out and drift away to. I am not going to even try to touch on or evaluate all of these, my purpose in writing this is to get people started, without the stress of uncomfortable sitting positions, learning complicated mantras or joining a slightly “out there” group. Basically, the best way to Meditate and practice Mindfulness is the one that suits you, fits in with your life and serves your purpose. It really is an individual thing.
Often the words Meditation and Mindfulness are used interchangeably. From my experience, I like to think that they are two different things and I use the practices differently, depending what is going on. I will often merge a Mindfulness exercise with a longer Meditation when I have time.
Mindfulness is a gentle practice that leads you to being able to still your overactive mind and “be present” by focusing on the here and now – which is so helpful when you are trying to go to sleep or get that important report written but you also have going around in your head what seems like a million and one other things like getting the kids to after school activities, picking up groceries, wondering what the strange smell is in your teenagers room and whether that noise in the car engine means it’s going to break down on the motorway on the way home.
Mindfulness techniques are also useful in other areas of your life. For example if you have clients that you see or interview, Mindfulness techniques can help you to focus on the person in front of you, leading to a more genuine interaction.
Many times the distractions are trivial things, sometimes they are bigger but they all take your focus away from what you are trying to do and can lead to unnecessary stress. Being able to put these thoughts aside is a powerful thing.
So how do I start out with Mindfulness?
When you first start out, make sure that you have a few minutes of undisturbed time.
- You can be sitting, lying down on the floor or the bed, sitting at your desk or on the bus – as long as you feel comfortable and safe.
- Allow yourself to relax and start by focusing on your breathing. A good way to start is to take 3 deep breaths, and with each one feel yourself relax and your shoulders drop a little more each time. Then just breathe in and out in your normal way, you do not need to change the way you are breathing or do anything special.
- Become aware of the way your lungs are filling and deflating. The way your chest and belly rises and falls. Notice how the feeling of your clothing on your skin changes as you inhale and exhale. You are focusing on here and now.
- If the million other things in your head start to come back into your awareness, just recognise and acknowledge this and put them aside until later, then go back to focusing on your breathing.
- Start with a few minutes and then gradually increase the time as you are able to.
It is as simple as that 😊!
Over time start transferring your focus from breathing to a number of other things, depending on what you are wanting to achieve.
- If you are wanting to finish that report, then focus on that and gently put aside the other thoughts.
- Write a “to do” list instead of trying to remember everything. By writing things down you can then let your mind put these aside until later, safe in the knowledge that you won’t forget them.
- Focus on the person in front of you in an interview by putting the thoughts of what to have for dinner out of your head and bringing your attention back to the person in front of you.
- Go for a walk (this is one of my favourites). Notice the trees, flowers, birds singing, the sun on your skin, stones on the footpath etc. Each time you start to feel your thoughts drift take a deep breath and bring them back to what is going on around you.
- Having trouble sleeping? Try a progressive relaxation exercise where you focus your mind on different parts of your body from your feet up to your head. E.g. become aware of your feet and feel them relax, then your calves and shins, thighs etc all the way up your body (you get the picture). Don’t worry if you fall asleep before you get to your head – going to sleep is the aim of the exercise.
Learning to slow down and control what you are thinking can make a huge impact on your stress levels.
Although don’t allow yourself to be caught in the trap of “I’m to busy to think about that right now”, it is also important to make sure that you are not just repressing or avoiding your intrusive thoughts, particularly if you have important issues under consideration. In the same mindful way that you put them aside to get other stuff done, you must also make some time where you clear the deck to allow yourself to think about and work on these things too.
What about Meditation?
As mentioned above, Meditation contains a raft of different practices and techniques.
There will be people who disagree with me, but in my own experience I see Meditation as happening after the stillness of Mindfulness has been achieved. Firstly, I become present in the here and now by putting aside intrusive thoughts, then I Meditate.
There are a number of techniques that people use when Meditating and maintaining the stillness. Sometimes it is chanting a mantra or tone – Aum, Awen or reciting the Rosary, another prayer or a repeated sentence. Sometimes it is listening to types of music with specific frequencies or sitting in a particular position. These things seem to keep busy the part of the mind that is easily distracted, allowing you to either relax in the stillness or to float off on your own soul journey or to be led if listening to a guided meditation. Once again, there are a number of YouTube videos and apps that can help you Meditate on just about any topic or way.
Learning more about Meditation and Mindfulness
If you want to learn more or want to practice in a group environment, a quick google on Meditation and Mindfulness courses for your area is likely to bring up a number of options. Some of these charge and some are free, depending on the organisations running them.
There are also on-line classes that may be of interest to you too.
As I mentioned above – the best way to Meditate and practice Mindfulness is the one that suits you, fits in with your life and serves your purpose.
For more ideas to help with coping with stress click here for one of my other blogs.
Stay well 😊
As always, this is general information and not to be taken as direct advice. For a more personalised approach, go to the Book & Contact page to get in touch with me.
1. Cash, E., et al., Mindfulness meditation alleviates fibromyalgia symptoms in women: Results of a randomized clinical trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2015. 49(3): p. 319-330.
2. Mitchell, M. and G. Heads, Staying Well: A Follow Up of a 5-Week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme for a Range of Psychological Issues. Community Mental Health Journal, 2015. 51(8): p. 897-902.
3. Omidi, A. and F. Zargar, Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Pain Severity and Mindful Awareness in Patients With Tension Headache: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Nursing & Midwifery Studies, 2014. 3(3): p. 1-5.
4. Kabat-Zinn, J., Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Revised ed. 2013, New York, NY: Bantam Books.