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Here's why you need mindfulness and how to bring it into your everyday

The mind that is lost in past or future is not living, since the present is the only time we get to actually be alive, writes Helen Byrne.

MINDFULNESS IS EVERYWHERE. So what is it? A simple working definition is that mindfulness is the art of gently, kindly, patiently and persistently guiding our attention away from the mind’s tendency to swing between being caught up in the past and the future and bring it back to the here and now.

When the mind is stuck in the past, it is often lost in regrets, remorse and re-hashing. When it is caught up in the future it is usually engaged in worrying and obsessively planning and rehearsing. There isn’t anything wrong with us that our minds do this. We just haven’t learned how to train the mind to remain more present.

The mind that is lost in past or future is not living, since the present is the only time we get to actually be alive.

shutterstock_225967018 Shutterstock / Alena Ozerova Shutterstock / Alena Ozerova / Alena Ozerova

Over the last 35 years the ancient Eastern practice of mindfulness has been harnessed to Western psychological approaches to form secular programmes designed to help people cope with stress, depression, anxiety, pain, illness, parenthood, eating disorders, OCD, ADHD and on and on.

These mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) operate through helping us to change our relationship to the difficulties we encounter in our everyday lives. The basic premise of mindfulness is that it is not possible to avoid these difficulties, but it is possible to change the way we relate to them.

Living in auto pilot mode?

We all have the ability to be mindful. We were mindful when we were children. In moments of happiness and sometimes of great loss, we are really here, really in our lives.

We can begin to develop more mindfulness in many small ways right now. We do this by using the senses to bring our awareness into what is here in our physical and emotional experience. Becoming mindful is facilitated by stopping whatever we are doing, even for a moment.

shutterstock_296425169 Shutterstock / Antonio Guillem Shutterstock / Antonio Guillem / Antonio Guillem

This can help to halt the automatic pilot mode in which many of us live most of our lives. When we take a pause like this the work of neuro-scientists has shown us that we are actually switching modes in the brain.

We are moving from what is often called the “doing” mode to the “being” mode. What this means is that we shift from being driven by what the mind tells us is urgent, and missing what is really important, into a space where we can experience what it means to just be alive.

Here are a few suggestions as to how you can bring more mindfulness into your life:

Drop your attention into the soles of the feet, the sensations of contact with the ground underneath them and the feeling of the weight of the body releasing down.

If you’re sitting, bring awareness to the sensations of sitting, the weight of the body on the chair and the support offered by the chair.

  • You might like to rest your attention on the sensations of the breath moving in the abdomen, maybe just for 5 in-breaths and 5 out-breaths. No need to change the breath, just watch how it is
  • Tune into your posture right now. Then slowly adjust it, if you wish, bringing more ease into the body
  • Bring awareness to any areas in the body where you habitually hold tension – e.g. the jaws, eye area, shoulders, abdomen, the low back and invite a softness to move in with breath and the tension to flow out with the exhalation.

If it is not feasible for you to take a pause you can practice mindfulness by bringing your full attention into whatever you are doing right now. Much of the time our attention is not focused fully on what we are doing, it is concerned with all the things we have to do next.

  • As you read this article, notice your body and your breath and maybe pay attention to what is being evoked in you
  • When you are washing up feel the water and the suds on your hands, being with the washing of the dishes;
  • When you are driving really be with the driving;
  • When you are in conversation with someone be fully in the conversation, deeply listening rather than assuming you know what the other person is going to say before they’ve said it and planning and rehearsing what you will say as soon as you get a chance, and instead responding thoughtfully to what is being said.

No matter what you are doing – showering, working, gardening, dressing, shopping, queuing, you can bring mindfulness to the experience and thus every activity can be a practice.

A sizable and rapidly growing body of research indicates that mindfulness can have profound effects on our health and wellbeing.

Helen Byrne, MA, Mindfulness-Based Approaches, H.Dip.Ed., Dip. Psych., is Co-Director of The Mindfulness Centre, 33 Lower Pembroke Street, Dublin 2,

Read: I’m a cynic by nature but I was surprised by how mindfulness helped me>

Read: Why you need a ‘mindfulness minute’ in your life>

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