Mindfulness: hot air and deep breathing?

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Day 36 of my 40 Day Blog Challenge. Someone asked me what I thought about mindfulness, in fact they asked if it was just hot air and deep breathing?! It’s true that over the last 20 years, but particularly the last 10 years, mindfulness has become increasingly popular and seems to have found an application in almost every corner of life. Do a quick Google search and you can quickly become overwhelmed by the results! But we can hear of mindfulness so much and perhaps not really understand what it really is in essence, so I shall attempt to explain… Oh, and here’s a free download Falling Leaf Mindfulness Exercise

Mindfulness has it roots in the Buddhist practice of meditation, but in itself is not a religious practise. It has been used and secularised extensively in the past 30 years or so with applications ranging from recovery from enduring mental health conditions such as personality disorders, through to being successful in business. And the industry is big bucks! £££

Many people imagine that meditation is all about emptying the mind in order to achieve some kind of inner bliss and calm. That is certainly not the case with mindfulness. Actually, mindfulness is more about paying attention, than it is about having an empty head space – and have you tried “emptying your mind”? Seriously, good luck with that!!

We spend most of our time in auto-pilot. We react to things the way we always do, the way we have adapted to; whether helpful or not. Our emotional responses are mostly habitual, and often don’t serve us well at all. And whilst in auto-pilot, we can spend a great deal of time either in the past or the future and never really truly present. We lament over this or that which has happened, or we fret about something which may or may not happen. We fail to acknowledge that actually, in this moment in time, right now, we are ok.

So mindfulness is about getting in touch with the here and now. And I concede this is probably quite the cliché. But mindfulness will use a number of techniques to bring us back to what’s really going on, both within ourselves, and our environment. It is about allowing ourselves the space to turn off auto-pilot and examine our thoughts non-judgementally. As we learn to do that, rather than impulsively act on those thoughts, we allow ourselves much greater opportunity to respond to our environment and our emotions, in a healthy and measured way.

I have facilitated a group where a member of the group was beginning to suffer an anxiety attack which quickly escalated. Before he had the opportunity to leave the room which he was wanting to do, I asked if he’d participate in a mindfulness exercise with me. We did a “grounding” technique which very simply is about clocking all of the physical aspects of your environment, noting what you can see, describing things around you in detail, is it noisy or quiet?, Busy or calm? And so on. Within 3 minutes he’d come from a self reported 9/10 on the anxiety scale, right back down to a manageable 3.  It was amazing to watch; I so often teach the theory, but there’s nothing like watching it have such a positive effect in real time!

So is it a load of hot air? Well, it can be. Like all good things, many people have latched onto it! If someone is offering to show you the secret of making millions using mindfulness techniques, be sceptical! However, if you are looking to better manage your response to a fast and furious world, and have noticed that your auto-pilot isn’t always that great, then mindfulness may be worth exploring.

Is it a load of breathing? Well yes. I think breathing is quite important!

If you fancy a taster, I recorded an exercise a while ago which uses the idea of a falling leaf to focus you on paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, in a non-judgemental way. It’s about 25 minutes long and quite calming, so if you’re interested, download the linked file, find somewhere quiet and stick your headphones on…

(right click – “download linked file as”)

Falling Leaf Mindfulness Exercise


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