There is now a vast amount of research showing the benefits of mindfulness meditation on the health of the body and mind. We often find that it can be a great way to help our clients during counselling sessions for depression anxiety and stress, as well as to learn to reduce unhelpful coping behaviours like drinking or binge eating.
But what is mindfulness and how do you do it and keep it up consistently?
First off I want you to try a meditation exercise with me. During counselling sessions with clients I like to jump straight into mindfulness and let the person experience it, as words to describe it are just not the same; so play along with me.
You will need to read this next bit through a couple of times to remember, or read it out loud into the voice recorder on your phone so you can listen and follow:
“First get yourself into a comfortable position sitting upright in a quiet room.
Now close your eyes and pay attention to the sounds around you.
Let your body relax.
Tune into your breathing – whether you feel it most clearly in the nostrils, the chest or the belly. Notice the sensations. Let your breath breathe itself.
Count the out breaths – one, two, three, four, then start again at one, focusing on the breath.
Notice when you get distracted from the breath by a sound, thought or feeling – notice what it was, name it (eg – “thinking about work”), then come back to the breath. Do this for a few minutes.
When you are ready come out of this gently, and then open your eyes”.
How did you find the exercise? Do you feel more relaxed? Were you able to bring yourself back to the breath after getting distracted? Did you notice your mind was busy?
During counselling sessions our clients often realise how very busy the mind is all the time, jumping from past to present to future and from topic to topic. Our busy minds actually cause a lot of the stress we feel – both worries and plans and internal dialogues in our heads, but also the body getting stirred up by all of this activity, keeping us tense and even affecting our sleep. At our practice, psychologists often start providing mindfulness training during counselling sessions early on for clients experiencing chronic stress, anxiety, depression, or sleeping problems for that very reason – it immediately starts to calm the state of mind and body, and is a useful tool for tolerating quite high states of distress.
A balance of focusing and observing how we get distracted
At our practice, our psychologists teach clients that to meditate you need to practice focussing your attention on one thing. Whether it is your breath, walking, or eating an apple, you need to slow down and pay close attention, savouring all the details of your senses. The mind is like an impatient restless child here – it gets bored quickly and will quickly move on to thoughts about other things. Here is where you need to do something different to normal – instead of engaging with that thought and following where it goes, you need to instead detach and just observe it and then return back to the focus point, such as the breath.
One point we are clear on here is that you can’t control the thoughts coming up but you can control how you react to them – learning to be a spectator rather than caught up in them.
So there you have it – an easy introduction to meditation which you can get started on straight away. Have a go at doing this even five minutes a day for the next two weeks until my next article where we are going to go more in depth into how and why it works, including more practices and how to stick at it. I hope this is helpful to you!