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17th Jun 2015

What is Mindfulness and how does it help me de-stress?

A Psychologist has the lowdown

There are very few people out there who haven’t yet heard of mindfulness – the meditative technique that’s so hot right now.

So what exactly is it

Mindfulness is simply bringing one’s awareness to the here and now – we do it through noticing our thoughts, emotions, and physical senses, and then allowing these to dissolve.

You are simply sitting still, observing your body and mind at the present, and not possessing or holding on to anything, which is how we learn to reduce stress and tension.

One of my personal favorite aspects of mindfulness is the philosophy behind it, which assumes that there is no past, and there is no future. They do not actually exist. All we have is the now, which is called the present because it is a gift! Thinking about the past is associated with depressive thoughts and regrets, while focusing on the future makes us anxious and nervous. If everyone just focused on the present, I guarantee mental health problems would dramatically decrease. In the words of Elsa, “Let it Go!”

How do you do it

Filling your lungs up with air and noticing all the senses as you do this is one of the most mindful things you can do. Take big, deep breathes and feel the cool air rushing in – feel the tiny hairs on the inside of your nose, your lungs filling up with air, your chest expanding, your diaphragm rising and your stomach ballooning, then breathe out slowly – then you have really mastered deep breathing.

Being kind and patient with yourself is really important during Mindfulness practice because it can take time to learn just to focus on the now, which is more difficult that it seems at the beginning, because it’s natural for our minds to wander off.

And it’s okay for thoughts to pop into your mind – this is 100% normal. We wouldn’t be normal if thoughts didn’t pop into our heads. Just push them away when they do come into your mind, and bring yourself back to the present, sitting or lying where you are. Think of your thoughts washing away on a wave to leave still, calm water, or floating away on a cloud, with clear, blue skies behind and this will help you come back to the here and now to focus on your deep breathing.

When practicing in your sitting or lying down mindfulness position, you are engaging in what is known as “formal practice” and this is extremely effective for stress reduction and learning how to control your body and mind. However, “informal practice” is driving your car and checking in with yourself for a few minutes. How am I doing? What is my breathing like? Can I slow it down? Are my muscles tense? Can I relax them? What is all around me?

What does it do

Studies have proven that mindfulness results in a slower heart rate, slower blood flow and muscle relaxation that leads to increased levels of concentration and energy, as well as lower rates of fatigue, anxiety and depression.

It is not uncommon for people who practice Mindfulness to view the world very differently after a practice – they see shapes more sharply and colors more intensely, notice objects and dimensions they had not before and actually feel and are in touch with their body in a different way.

Because I work with families from conception upwards, we facilitate and teach mindfulness in a number of ways. We offer group classes and workshops to pregnant mothers, mother and baby groups, pre-school children, primary and secondary school-aged children (particularly those coming up to exams) and facilitate sessions in workplaces interested in psychological health promotion. We also supplement therapy with one-to-one sessions for a more individualised approach to clients’ needs.

As a psychologist at Sugru Child Development and Contextual Play Therapy Services, I engage with families from all over Ireland dealing with issues from prenatal woes to teenagers needing extra coping strategies. We employ the most up-to-date research in positive parenting research to forge a new way for parents to learn how to promote holistic well-being in their home.

Lorraine Lynch is this week’s Guest Blogger on Follow Lorraine and her business partner, Arlene Naughten (and finalists of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland 2015) at Sugru on Facebook or Twitter @sugrutherapies or @lorrlyncher.