Mindfulness: Why it’s Important and How to Start a Basic Practice
One of the most common things I find people asking me, either during our transpersonal coaching sessions or at my group workshops is, firstly, why developing a consistent mindfulness or meditation practice is so important and secondly, how to do it.
There are many forms of mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is about awareness, this could involve awareness of a particular object, awareness of our thoughts and senses and the scope of our awareness varies (I will share more about this in another article). Mindfulness is something we can practice all the time. Meditation is a more formal practice which can involve mantras, listening or using guided visualisations and it also involves maintaining mindful awareness. So the practice of mindfulness and meditation overlap and in this article, I’ll talk about a very simple mindfulness meditation practice of maintaining focussed awareness on the breath.
Fostering Emotional Resilience
I’ve found that a regular mindfulness meditation practice is one of the most crucial things we can do to foster emotional resilience. This is especially important during times of transition or when going through periods of difficulty. The practice enables us to regulate and stay present with our emotions without getting consumed by them or, on the other hand, pretending they are not there. We develop an ability to observe our experience and see our thoughts or emotions as something that are part of us, rather than the truth of who we are.
Mindfulness of the Breath
Our mind is like a movie that is playing on repeat; we are often reminiscing on old memories, constructing and making plans or focusing on fears and anxieties surrounding our unknown future. As mentioned, one of the most basic forms of mindfulness meditation is to focus on a specific object of attention such as the breath. This practice involves staying present with the constant in and out flow of breath while maintaining a non-judgmental awareness. When your mind wanders, or you get lost in thoughts and memories, you simply bring yourself back to the awareness of the breath. The mind will continue to wander or ‘trap’ you in these thoughts and stories! You are constantly training yourself to come back to the object of attention—the breath.
Even after years of practice, my mind still wanders! Actually, maintaining stable attention is something I have always found really difficult - my mind is constantly getting distracted and I can very easily get caught up in stories and find myself daydreaming. This is the main reason I practice mindfulness, because I have found that I’m able to ‘catch’ the wandering and bring myself back to my breath much more quickly than I used to.
I have also found that I can identify the felt sense of emotions in my body more easily, so when I practice, I feel into the tightness and areas where I am holding tension and use the breath to dissolve this tension. There is often a natural expansion that takes place and which gives some space between our thoughts. With a regular and consistent practice, which can be as little as 5 minute a day, the space between our thoughts will grow and eventually enable us to choose how we respond to our emotions. Hopefully, without feeling overwhelmed by them or reacting in impulsive ways, which we would prefer not to.
When we are struggling or feeling overwhelmed by powerful emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger or sadness, these emotions often show up as tightness, tension, restrictions and physical pain in the body. As well as the mental space I mentioned earlier, a regular meditation practice also creates physical space and an expansion between the actual cells and the tightness we experience in the body. We can breathe into the physical tension and the emotions, thereby reducing stress and the manifestations of physical illness in the body.
How to Create a Routine for Practicing
It’s helpful to find a space in your home where you’re able to practice each day without being distracted. This space can also be outside in your garden or in the park—a place that will always be available to you. I would also try to set this space up with a cushion, a blanket, some incense or a candle. You might also have a small table which has some pictures or objects which are important to you. These objects might have religious or spiritual significant, but they also don’t need to be associated with anything spiritual—the most important thing is that you create a warm and comforting atmosphere which you can always return to.
When you practice, it’s helpful to find a position that is comfortable for you, preferably with a straight spine and not laying down (so you don’t fall asleep!) and try to keep to the same position—whether this is sat with your legs crossed, kneeling, or on a chair. It’s just as important to avoid thinking there is a “perfect” posture, or trying to stick to something that is too rigid. Remember to stay relaxed and to keep your body soft and comfortable as you engage in your practice.
Try to practice at the same time each day as this will help you to form a healthy routine and habit. If there is a change to your routine and you end up missing a session or even some of your sessions - don’t give up as every moment of the day is a chance to practice being present, mindful and aware.
The amount of time you spent meditating depends on how much experience you have and it is also best to set small, consistent goals. You might begin with taking just 5 minutes every day to focus on your breath and over the course of a week you can increase it up to 15 or 20 minutes a day.
As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, there are many different forms of mindfulness and meditation. If you have just started practicing, you can simply begin by paying attention to your breath throughout the course of the day. Set a timer on your phone and at certain times of the day, take just 1 minute to bring awareness to your body and to the breath. It’s also a great idea, in the beginning, to listen to guided meditations to help you get into a routine. I have a series of guided meditations that range from 5 to 15 minutes long, which are helpful for those who are learning to practice mindfulness or meditation for the first time. Get in touch to let me know how you get in on with your practice.