For over thirty years mindfulness has been a recognized alternative therapy to help people cope with illnesses such as depression, acute anxiety, stress, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and even chronic pain. Mindfulness proves that we can use our own bodies as a way to increase awareness.
Difficulties such as depression and mental health problems or living with chronic pain are part of life. Using mindfulness as part of our everyday lives can help us cope with these things in a better way. Being mindful cannot cure problems and you will still have to take any normal medication, but it helps to change the way in which we think about them. This is because practicing mindfulness refocuses our minds.
We can begin practicing being mindful by taking small steps. Mindfulness is all about being aware of what we are doing at any one given time. So next time you are doing something routine such as eating a bowl of pasta, concentrate on eating the food and ask yourself ‘what is the texture of my food like?’, ‘What flavors can I detect?’. Really try and chew your food and be aware of the nourishment that your body is getting. You can do these exercises in all your daily activities. For example, when you are going for a walk, try and notice your surroundings by asking yourself what you can see, what do the trees look like? Is it cold or breezy? You normally carry out these tasks without giving it a thought. By practicing these rituals while you are living your normal life, you will soon learn that you can feel enriched. Negative thought cycles often caused by depression, will start to become broken. You may usually think that if you answer the door you will have an anxiety attack, but by being mindful and taking slow deep breaths, this feeling will pass and it will eventually become the norm to address your problems without worry.
If your normal first reaction on waking in the morning is negative and you lack motivation then this can be very distressing. Being mindful helps your pain tolerance increase and this has a domino effect because you will automatically fear the pain, anxiety or stress less. The more you fear bad things happening, the more likely it is that they will happen. If you are in a calm, peaceful state this will help you deal with all of your problems.
Meditation is a key part of practicing mindfulness and does not come naturally to most people. Like all things in life, it is a skill which can be learned over time. You should start off by lying or sitting comfortably and try your best to clear your mind (it is perfectly normal for your mind to start wandering after about twenty seconds so don’t worry). If you notice that you are thinking about doing the laundry or something else, try and stop that thought and get back into the deep breathing, concentrating on how your breath comes out of your nostrils, or how your tummy rises and falls with each breath. Practice this exercise at least twice a day just for three minutes. After doing it for a couple of weeks you will notice that your mind does not wander as much and you are able to stay in a meditative state for longer than three minutes. Even if it takes you weeks or even months to acquire this skill please do not worry. Mindfulness is purely non judgmental. You are not letting yourself or anybody else down by not being an expert at meditation.
Once you are comfortable with sitting quietly concentrating on your breathing you can begin to introduce visualization techniques. Think of a lovely place that you can remember. It can be anything at all, perhaps a nice garden that you have sat in, a park you have visited or a stream. While you are picturing this object or place try and imagine that you are there and how it makes you feel. Using visualization exercises regularly lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, making the mind and body feel calmer.
Remember you should practice and practices again at bringing your attention back to your body, to the moment you are in. Making this simple effort gives us the power to expand our awareness from times when we are meditating to living mindfully every day. In other words, the meditation can help keep us relaxed even while we are not in a meditative state. Use your breath while you are trying to complete difficult tasks. Direct your full attention to each in-breath and each out-breath as they follow one another. By doing this you can bring both body and mind into a state of well being and stillness. You will find that after being mindful for a few weeks it starts to come naturally to you. And you will soon notice that your stress levels are not as high, you are having less panic attacks, your OCD is more controlled and you are dealing with your pain better.
Life is not a bowl of cherries and sometimes we can be overwhelmed by depression and distress. Fear, worry, pain, self loathing or hopelessness is part of many people’s daily lives. Practicing mindfulness gives us the tools to cope better with these difficult issues by helping us be more alert, aware, and accepting of ourselves as we are. By being mindful we can learn to live without fear, just live in the moment, and just be.
Mike Sorensen is an audiophile and the author of the www.AcousticFields.com soundproofing blog. Music has always been his greatest escape from the onset of depression.