An introduction to mindfulness techniques
This page explores the practice and purpose of mindfulness. It offers an overview of its use and application. It also offers some practical techniques that you can practice in your own time and at your own pace. Let’s start with understanding mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness ?
Mindfulness is a state of mind. It is a method of focusing your attention on what you are thinking, feeling and doing as it happens; thus it is about living in the moment as it unfolds. It is a powerful tool in the arsenal of skills that you can use to help yourself relax; because you can focus on what is happening around you and pay attention to how you are responding to that in the moment, rather than being caught up by your thoughts.
Mindfulness is different from relaxation. This is because it has 3 key components that you have to learn to engender. These are:
Self awareness; self acceptance and living in the present moment.
How do I become more self aware?
In order to do this, you need to pay attention to yourself, your thoughts and your feelings. A key way to learn to pay attention to your ‘self’ is to focus on your breathing. This may sound strange, but focusing on your breathing makes you pay attention to yourself and your body a little more.
Let’s practice it. Work though exercise 1 below. As you work though the steps remember to try and keep your mind’s eye on your breathing; counting the breath helps you to do this.
Exercise 1: Focus on the breath
- Close your eyes if you can
- Focus on the breath
- Breathe in for count of three
- Hold for a count of three
- Breathe out for count of three
- Pause for one
- Repeat until you have completed the cycle three times
As you become more adept at this technique, you can use a little mantra if you like; something simple like “As I breathe in I breathe in calm; as I breathe out I breathe out stress”
Another method of becoming self aware is the mindful body scan. This is a method of paying attention to your body; it helps you to get to know yourself, how you are feeling, where you hold tension and stress. It is really like a journey of self discovery. Read through the stages below so you can become accustomed to the technique.
Exercise 2: Mindful body scan
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable place and fully relax your body. To do this, ensure that you are fully supported, either in the chair, or, if you are lying down, the floor, bed or settee.
- Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed, so not hunched but down from your ears and that the shoulder blades are flat against the back of the chair, floor, bed or settee.
- Check that your head and neck are in line with you spine and feel supported and comfortable.
- If you are sitting ensure your hips, knees and ankles are at 90 degrees or as near as possible. Place your hands on your thighs or on the arms of the chair so they feel supported and at ease.
- If you are lying down, ensure your lower back is comfortable; if it is not, try placing a small cushion under your thighs so that your lower back is flat on the surface supporting it.
- Your arms should be at your sides; with the palms up or down, depending on your personal preference.
- Your feet should be relaxed and you may find that they fall slightly apart; this is fine.
- Let your breathing slow down and breathe deeply through the NOSE. Feel you stomach rising and falling and follow the breath from the inhalation through your nose, down into your lungs and then on into your abdomen. Follow the breath out in the same way but starting with the abdomen deflating, and flowing the outward breath as it moves up into the lungs, throat, mouth and finally exhaling out through the nose.
- Be aware of your body position; either sitting in the chair or lying on the floor/bed/settee. Where is your body in contact with the chair? Where is it in contact with the supporting surface? Just be aware of this then bring you focus back to your breath.
- Now we will focus on one part of the body at a time.
- Starting with your head, pay attention to your body and notice any tension you are feeling in that area. You might become aware of a feeling of tightness or pain. You might experience a feeling of heat, cold or energy around a certain area. If you do, focus on it for a minute and notice what you are feeling.
- If you notice any uncomfortable sensations, focus on them and breathe into them. Notice what happens; the feeling may become more intense at first, then as you continue the body scan meditation and keep your focus, the feeling may dissipate. Keep your awareness on whatever that feeling was for a little while, just staying present in the moment. Give yourself a little massage in that area if you want to.
- Next, move down to your neck, and repeat the body scan meditation steps. Notice if there is any tightness, pain or pressure. Breathe into the areas where you notice and discomfort; stay with the feelings. Gently massage your neck if you wish. Let your body and mind relax.
- Continue this practice with each area of your body, moving from head to toe. Notice how you feel, where you are holding your stress, and what sensations you are experiencing as a result.
- Breathe, meditate, massage and relax as you travel through your body and become aware of it. It is important that you do not judge or feel negative if you find tension or stress. Rather be kind to yourself and nurture a sense of self compassion and love. This is an important step in engendering self-acceptance, another very important part of mindfulness practice.
- This exercise can help you release tension in your body now; and be more aware of it in the future so you can release it then, too.
A more detailed account of the Mindful body scan can be found here . To aid your practice, a spoken version of the above can be found by clicking on the image below:
Exercise 3: Doing everyday activities meaningfully
Once you have completed the exercises above you are ready to start paying attention to the moment as it happens i.e. to actually experience the moment at it passes or unfolds. This is not an easy practice to learn because it does not come naturally to us to pause, and appreciate the moment in this way: we are normally thinking ahead or worrying about something that has already happened. We might for example be ruminating about an argument earlier, something said or not said in a meeting, or panicking about being late for an appointment etc. When we do this, the moment passes us by unnoticed, and we rarely even think about that missed time or experience. By paying attention and being mindful of what is going on around you can experience real benefits. You will find that you feel calmer, can focus more, be more productive and feel more relaxed. You can use this mindfulness technique everyday and in all the activities you do, but it does need you to practice to get the technique right. Click here for a guided mindfulness walking technique. Notably you can use this technique even if you cant get outside to actually walk because you can imagine your favourite walk in your mind’s eye, so do listen if you are in that situation. In the book there is an example of a mindfully washing the dishes; that might seem tedious and boring to some but it just goes to show that you can be mindful in all the activities you do everyday!
Exercise 4: Stop, breathe and listen
Finally, just take a moment to stop, breathe and listen to the words of this song by Peter Cronin to think a little more about the value of breathing, mindfulness and slowing down in everyday life for your personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. This is a song about self awareness, self-acceptance and living in the moment. I hope you enjoy it.
Click anywhere on the image below:
Thank you for engaging with the materials on this page. For an audio of a mindful walking exercise please click here