Looking after your Mental Health with Mindfulness: A Personal Perspective
What is Mindfulness?
It is the ability to live in the present, to be aware of where we are now, and what we are doing, and not to be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us.
It is a skill, and so the more we practice it, the better we get at it. We can all learn ways to incorporate the ideas of Mindfulness into our lives.
Mindfulness can be applied to most situations; eating, drinking, walking, or can be done as a specific practice such as meditation, breathing exercises or body scans, for example.
When we are doing these practises, the aim is to observe what is going on, using as many senses as possible. We need to treat the thoughts that come into our mind without judgement, approaching the process with warmth and kindness to ourselves and other.
I was first introduced to Mindfulness as a technique to help mental health, when I was suffering with Post Natal Depression, and wanted to find something other than medication to help me out of the situation I found myself in.
I participated in an 8-week Mindfulness Course run in Cardiff, based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams. I found the course so useful that I did further courses with the same trainer.
As I was already teaching Yoga and Pilates, both known as Mind Body Classes, I started to incorporate what I had learnt into the relaxation elements of these classes and found that my participants also found them useful.
I also continued to practice mindful meditation, particularly Body Scans, myself to help prepare for sleep.
I realised how important it was for me to disconnect from my busy life, by going for a walk, and simply paying attention to the movement of walking, what it feels like, and to be aware of my surroundings; rather than walking to get from A to B. I also find by slowing my mind down, things can become clearer, so I may get ideas for work, which I was struggling to come up with when trying to force the issue.
Another thing I like to do mindfully at times, is drink a cup of coffee; how many times are we multi-tasking, when really focussing on one thing, and we don’t really savour anything. Eating on the run, at our desks; we’ve all done it. It’s so nice to take the time to truly enjoy a coffee (or tea, or hot chocolate); the warmth as we hold the cup in our hands, the smell as we bring it close to our face, maybe the heat on our lips before we even feel the liquid, or the foam on top. Taking time to enjoy each mouthful, the taste, the warmth as we feel it go down our throat. Below is a guided meditation which will take you through the process of drinking a non-alcoholic drink mindfully.
Mindfulness and Pilates/Yoga
Sometimes when we are in a Yoga or Pilates class, we can find our mind wandering, and mindfulness trains us to acknowledge those thoughts but then bring our mind back to our current activity and surroundings so we can fully benefit from our practice. This can be particularly useful if we are working out at home due to the other distractions around us. Mindfulness is simply another skill we can learn and develop over time, which can increase the benefit of our practice through being fully present on the mat. Mindfulness skills also enable any relaxation element of a class to have greater benefit, and a guided meditation is an excellent way to finish a class.
How I am finding it useful now
When I feel overwhelmed by things, it is really helpful to do a short breathing exercise to calm the mind and body, which then gives me a clear head to work out what are my priorities are, and break everything down into manageable tasks. It’s like a pause and re-set button.
Mindfulness also helps me appreciate the small things in life, that we sometimes take for granted. For example, peace and quiet, as I am usually alone most of the day, but now my partner is at home, it is harder to get this time of quiet reflection.