Generally speaking, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment. This is achieved through an awareness of and appreciation for our inner sensations and feelings, along with our experiences of the external world. While this sounds like a relatively simple task, it can be surprisingly difficult to accomplish. Often, we find that our thoughts quickly drift away from the present moment and onto other things. Over time, practicing mindfulness can help us gently guide our minds back to the present moment. There is a growing body of research which suggests that practicing this process over time can actually help remodel our brain so that this process becomes natural to us.
One thing is important to keep in mind. The idea is not to clear our mind so that it is completely empty of all thoughts. Such a task would be impossible and would almost certainly leave us feeling defeated and exhausted. Instead, mindfulness allows our mind to say “I see this thought. I recognise where it came from, but I don’t need it right now.” Essentially, we are training ourselves to observe and appreciate the thoughts that come into our minds and as they leave again. We are not trying to force these thoughts to stop.
How to practice mindfulness
Set aside the time and space. Find a space where you can sit or lie down comfortably and where you wont be disturbed. Allow yourself this time (about 10-20 minutes) each day to practice mindfulness. While this may be difficult at first, remember that this is only a tiny portion of your day and that in the long-run, the benefits of mindful thinking will actually save you time.
Take in the present moment. Observe how your body feels physically. Are there certain sensations in one area of the body? Maybe there are no sensations. What can you hear? Is the mind calm, or are thoughts racing around? Whatever the case is, allow this moment to just be, without trying to change it.
When the mind wanders (which it will do at some point) simply register where the mind has ran off to, allow the thought to pass and then gently bring it back to observing the present moment.
Try not to criticise yourself. Mindfulness takes practice and it is important not to judge yourself or feel discouraged. Its no problem if you find it difficult to stay with the present moment. Just allow yourself the time to practice.
Focus on the breath. One of the best ways to bring the mind back from wandering, is to focus on the breath. You can do this in two ways: listen to how the breath sounds as you breathe in and out and feel your chest rise and fall with each breath. Again, do not try and force a certain type of breath. Just breathe naturally and allow things to be just as they are.
For more information, including free audio guides, check out: https://mindfulness.ie/