The positive effects of meditation have long been recognised: increased calm, better physical and emotional health, improved relationships and an increased sense of well being are some of the benefits. However, not everyone has the time to commit to a structured and regular practice of meditation; life can just be too busy.
Mindfulness practice (or the practice of focused attention) is a simple and easy to learn alternative that can be done in just a few minutes each day, and can have real and long lasting results. So what can mindfulness help us to achieve? Firstly it encourages a greater sense of calm and relaxation in our daily lives, and helps us mange stress better. It allows us a few minutes in a quiet space, without distraction, to really “be with ourselves”. It can promote a sense of physical and mental well being, strengthen our immune system and improve the quality of our lives and relationships.
Other interesting benefits are being discovered by neuroscience. It is suggested that mindfulness practice can promote neuroplasticity, the capacity of the brain to change, to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections. Mindfulness practice also teaches us how to be present, “in the moment”. As Buddhist monk and mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hahn says: “We are constantly sucked into the future and therefore not fully alive to what we are doing in the present”.
Being mindfully in the present means we can react to situations more rationally and appropriately. It means we are using the frontal cortex of our brain rather than being taken over by the emotional centres that are often driven by past events.
Here is a simple technique that takes a few minutes:
1. Sit in a comfortable chair with good back/neck support, in a place where you will not be disturbed. Alternatively, lie down in a comfortable place.
2. Close your eyes if you are comfortable, but you can keep them open if you prefer.
3. Place one hand over your heart area & the other over your stomach (or just place hands comfortably in your lap if you prefer).
4. Take your attention to the feeling of the contact between your feet and the floor (if seated).
5. Notice the feeling of the contact between your body and the chair (or bed/sofa).
6. Take your attention to your breathing, by focusing on the rise and fall of your chest or the sensation of your breath passing through your nose and mouth (or in any way you choose). Don’t try to change your breathing, simply notice it.
Keep your attention on your breathing
You are likely to find that your attention is drawn back into your head and all your thoughts. Notice this, and gently direct your attention back to your breathing, body and feet. Repeat this each time your attention is drawn back into your thoughts. Gradually focus all your attention on your breathing.
Stay with this for only as long as is comfortable, noticing how it feels to be fully focused on your breathing and completely in the present. Notice the difference in how it feels when your attention is in your head and when it is on your feet, body or breathing. Initially you may only feel comfortable doing this for a very short time, but with practice you will find that it gets much easier.
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