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The art of mindfulness: What is it and how do you do it?

/ May 14, 2013 0:00AM / Print / ()

The art of mindfulness: What is it and how do you do it?

There has been plenty of talk over the years about meditation and its many benefits on career and work life balance. But it's "mindfulness meditation" that's been generating the most buzz lately, as one of the most effective and simple ways of improving wellbeing.

And as more and more evidence emerges in support of mindfulness meditation, practising it is no longer considered unconventional but rather an important everyday wellbeing tool, along with exercise and good nutrition.

So what is mindfulness meditation and how do you actually do it?

According to Monash University, which currently runs a number of mindfulness programs for its students and staff, mindfulness involves making a commitment to being fully present, moment-to-moment, with an attitude of openness and acceptance – that is, without any judgement, labelling or elaboration.

"Mindfulness is a simple concept. Its power lies in its practise and its applications. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally," Monash says in its mindfulness guide. It adds that this kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity and acceptance of reality, and wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments.

Dr Richard Chambers, a psychologist who specialises in mindfulness-based therapies and is a facilitator for Monash University's mindfulness programs, says mindfulness is all about learning to notice when the mind has wondered off into thoughts or reactions, and bringing it back to the senses.

"So whatever is happening with the five senses is happening in the present moment. When you're paying attention to what you feel in your body, what you can hear, smell or taste, that brings you into the present," he says.

"When we communicate mindfully we really hear what the person is saying. Not waiting for our turn to speak or drifting off but really hearing what they're saying. We communicate more effectively. Communicating in that way improves things like empathy and compassion and improves relationships with everybody including your staff and colleagues."

How to be mindful

With the help of YouTube, Google and meditation DVDs, there are plenty of resources available to teach us how to meditate and, in particular, how to master the art of mindfulness. But Chambers says enrolling in a mindfulness course is the best way to get you started.

"[Doing a course] supports people getting established in a daily practise, which is the key. It makes it more sustainable," says Chambers, noting that he was also involved in the development of a website and smartphone app, The Smiling Mind, which is available for free on iTunes and provides guided mindfulness practices.

"The app is really useful. For working women who don't have time to join a course, that's an approachable way of starting."

But to start being more mindful today, the Monash guide offers these daily tips to help keep you in the moment:

  • When you wake up in the morning, before you get out of bed, bring your attention to your breathing and observe five, mindful breaths.
  • Notice changes in your posture. Be aware of how your body and mind feel when you move from lying down to sitting, to standing, to walking.
  • Whenever you hear a phone ring, a bird sing, a train pass, laughter, a car horn, the wind, the sound of a door closing – use any sound as the bell of mindfulness. Listen and be present and awake.
  • Throughout the day, take a few moments to bring your attention to your breathing. Observe five, mindful breaths.
  • Whenever you eat or drink something, take a minute and breathe. Pay attention as you eat. Bring awareness to seeing your food, smelling your food, tasting your food, chewing your food and swallowing your food.
  • Notice your body while you walk or stand. Take a moment to notice your posture. Pay attention to the contact of the ground under your feet. Feel the air on your face, arms and legs as you walk. Are you rushing?
  • Bring awareness to listening and talking. Can you listen without agreeing or disagreeing, liking or disliking or planning what you will say when it is your turn?
  • Whenever you wait in a line, use this time to notice standing and breathing. Are you feeling impatient?
  • Be aware of any points of tightness in your body throughout the day. See if you can breathe into them and, as you exhale, let go of excess tension.
  • Focus attention on your daily activities such as brushing your teeth or doing your hair. Bring mindfulness to each activity.
  • Before you go to sleep at night, take a few minutes and bring your attention to your breathing. Observe five, mindful breaths.

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