Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies (UK Edition)
Mindfulness, put simply, means a present-moment awareness. The more mindful you are, the more you’re aware of your surroundings as well as what’s going on in your head, heart and body. A greater level of awareness offers you greater choice. Rather than immediately reacting to your thoughts and emotions, you can choose to take a more considered response. For example, if you’re aware of negative thoughts, you can question the thoughts, or step back from them. If you’re focused and listening to your partner, you can deepen your relationship. If you’re really aware of your food, you can make better choices, be grateful for what you eat and savour the taste.
How to Do a Three-Minute Mindfulness Exercise
Mindfulness exercises and meditations train your brain to be focused and calm. With better focus you’re more productive, feel more in control of your life and are happier. Mindfulness leads to lower levels of stress, which reduces anxiety and depression, as well as reducing physical ailments like psoriasis, chronic pain, high blood pressure and more.
Here’s a short mindfulness exercise to get you started enjoying all that mindfulness and mindfulness meditation has to offer. Practise this exercise whenever you have a few minutes to spare. In fact, you reduce the whole thing to one minute, or extend the process out to ten minutes. And you can practice it on the train, while waiting in a queue or lying in bed.
Sit up straight with your head balanced on your neck. Allow your eyes to close, or gaze downwards.
Begin by taking three deep breaths. Breathe all the way down into the base of your lungs, so your belly expands on your in-breath and contracts on your out-breath.
Now let your breath become normal and natural again and consider the following:
Step A – Awareness. Become aware of your body. Notice any bodily sensations. The touch of your feet on the floor; the weight of your body on the chair. Now become aware of your emotions. Notice how you’re feeling at the moment. And now become aware of your thoughts. Allow the thoughts to arise and pass away if you can. Allow about a minute for this step.
Step B – Breath. Now, bring your attention to your breathing. Feel the whole of your in- and out-breath for about a minute. If you can, feel your breathing down in your belly. Gather your attention into your breath and use your breath as a stable place to rest your focus.
Step C – Consciously expanding. Open up your awareness from your breathing to your whole body. In this stage, your attention is wide and spacious, feeling all the sensations in your body, with a sense of kindness and curiosity if you can. Allow space for all sensations to just be there, including the sensation of your breathing. Do this for about a minute.
Developing Mindful Attitudes to Life
When practising mindfulness, you can bring certain attitudes to your experience to really get the most out of living mindfully. Here are the key attitudes:
Curiosity. Practice being curious about things. When you go for a walk, notice what people are doing, what the trees look like and the range of sounds you can here. Also be curious about your own thoughts and emotions – just be interested rather than judgemental if you can.
Self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. When you make a mistake, forgive yourself and try again if possible. Give yourself a break rather than berating yourself. Catch moments of self-criticism and turn your attention to something more positive about yourself.
Mindful acceptance. If you’re feeling a particular emotion, allow the feeling to have some space to be present. Let the sensation be, rather than trying to change it. When you can begin to accept emotions as they come and go, you give them more freedom to pass away. What you resist, persists; what you accept, transforms.
Openness. Be open and receptive to your inner experiences. Take a step back and observe your thoughts and feelings. Be an observer of your experience rather than being stuck or caught up with a train of thought or difficult emotion.
Practice mindfulness meditation regularly to build up this skill. For example, rather than thinking ‘I’m anxious’, you can observing the feeling and think ‘I’m observing anxiety rising in my belly area. In time it will pass away. I’m just watching it’. In this way, you have a certain sense of freedom from the torrent of thoughts and emotions that may come your way.
Four Tips to be More Mindful in Your Daily Life
The great thing about mindfulness is that it’s more than just meditation. You can practice mindfulness any time. You can do mindful walking, mindful eating and even mindful speaking and listening. And all these activities train your brain to be even more mindful in the future.
Walk mindfully. The next time you go for a walk, bring some mindful awareness to the process. You can do this by noticing the sensation of your feet as you touch the ground, or the breeze against your skin. Each time your mind wanders off to other thoughts about the past or future, bring your attention back to the experience of actually walking.
Be mindful with your child. When you’re reading a story to your child, keep your attention there. While bathing your child, be in the moment. When your child asks a question, connect to them with your full attention. Allowing your attention to be in the present moment with your child may even make your child more mindful because children automatically copy what they see, and you’ll value your precious time together more.
Exercise mindfully. Before engaging in a physical activity like swimming, running, cycling or even cleaning, take a few conscious breaths. Really feel your breath entering and leaving your lungs. Then, when you do your physical exercise, notice how your body feels. Connect your attention with the experience. Each time your mind wanders to other thoughts, kindly bring your attention back. Finish the activity with a few more mindful breaths and notice how you feel before moving onto your next task.
Communicate mindfully. When you’re speaking to your partner, friend or colleague, try mindful communication. This means that you listen to what the other person is saying with full attention. You notice your thoughts and perhaps your desire to interrupt, but then let that go.
When listening, don’t just be aware of the content of the other person’s words, but also the tone of voice and emotion behind the words. This is deep listening. When speaking, be authentic rather than trying to impress. Listen to the tone of your voice as you speak, and try not to rush your words.
Overcoming Common Problems with Mindfulness Meditation
Here are the three most common issues or problems some people have with doing mindfulness meditation, and some tips and suggestions for overcoming them successfully.
I can’t do meditation. When people say this, they normally mean they can’t focus. But if you can’t focus yet, mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to develop that focus! It’s completely normal for your mind to wander off when you’re meditating. However, as soon as you’ve noticed, bring your focus back to the object of attention specified in the meditation (often your breath). Each time you do so, you’re training your mind to be more focused in the future. Remember, you can’t fail at meditation. As long as you try, you’ve succeeded.
I can’t sit still for half an hour. Some meditations require you to be relatively still for half an hour, but many don’t require this at all. You do the body scan meditation lying down. And mindful yoga, walking or tai chi is meditation in movement. The three-minute mindfulness exercise is a great practice to do daily.
I just don’t have the time. Life is busy. Everything and everyone seems to want a chunk of your time. But you can do mindfulness meditation at any time. You can wash the dishes mindfully, you can walk your dog mindfully or you can even have a mindful shower. So that takes no time at all out of your busy day. And if some of the busiest people in the world can find time to stop and meditate, even if it’s only five minutes, you probably can too.