Mental Health and Mindfulness

17 May

Mental Health and Mindfulness

18th to 24th May is Mental Health Awareness week and the theme this year is “kindness”.

Being kind to oneself is often much harder than being kind to others. If we stop to listen to that voice in our head that criticizes ourselves or that incessant inner chatter, we would see how unkind we are to ourselves or how crazy we are sometimes.

Mindfulness is a way to calm the mind and reduce those repetitive thoughts and unkind words.

Our minds like to be entertained with information from everything we experience through all of our senses. Then when the mind wanders around in thought, it likes to pick a few bits of information from each experience and create an entirely new idea or experience. Often these false images or ideas leads to negative thoughts and feelings that may cause stress, low mood or anxiety. 

Mindfulness helps to calm the mind so that we think about one thing at a time and in so doing,

it is easier to have a clearer perspective about that person, event or idea. We can think of an event or person in its entirety rather than picking out only a few bits of information about it.

Mindfulness helps us to be aware of our emotions.

What we think leads to what we feel. Our thoughts fuel our emotions. So, if we can observe our thoughts then we can be aware of our feelings and make conscious choices about where we want to direct our thoughts and feelings.

Mindfulness is about being present in every moment by being aware of your senses in every single moment such as

the sensation of your socks on your feet, the gentle breeze on your skin, the sound of the birds, colours of objects, the sensation of joy in your heart… in every second, every millisecond and every moment.

A man is sitting in a beautiful park on a warm spring day, eating an apple, listening to his favourite music while reading his favourite magazine but his leg is moving agitatedly as if he’s not feeling settled. This is because his mind or his focus is stretched in too many distractions: the beautiful park, the warm weather, his music, his apple and his magazine. This person is feeling pulled in different directions and never fully present in any one of them. How unsettling that must feel. If he was to focus on one thing completely then he would be fully present, fully focused with all his awareness on that one thing.

So how do we practice being present, being mindful, being calm?

It can be as basic as focusing on your breathing, focusing on what you see, feel, hear or thinking positive thoughts. All of these seem simple but if you tried to focus on only one thing for 10 minutes, you would see how the mind races around so many topics like a wild animal. Try to focus on that one thing without thinking why you are thinking that thought or without letting other thoughts emerge from what you are trying to focus on. And if the mind wanders then gently reign it in without reacting or getting frustrated.

Yes, it’s hard and that’s why it needs practice, just like any sports or exercise and it has to be consistent and for some people there needs to be guidance.

Mindfulness is the basis of all meditation practices. To practice mindfulness, you can try the following:

  • Use a free meditation app like Insight Timer which can help with guided meditations.
  • You can also try attending drop in meditation classes at places like The Triratna Centres around the world or find a local Mindfulness Meditation group.
  • For those who would like a more serious experience, you can try short but intensive live-in courses offered by The Triratna centres, Goenka Vipassana Centres or other similar mindfulness groups.

Just like your physical health, mind health requires daily practice and commitment rather than a one stop shop. Rather than committing to something that seems arduous, try short manageable practices of 5 minutes each day at the same time. Make it into a habit like brushing your teeth and eventually you will feel the subtle benefits.

Studies show that meditation may be able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is the opposite of the sympathetic or stress system. The parasympathetic system is also called the “rest and digest” system and activating this system may help to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, inflammation and anxiety but should not be done to replace medication.

Mémé has been attending retreats around the world and practicing meditation for over 25 years. Her daily practice supports her own self development work so that she can support the clients she sees in her nutritional therapy practice.

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