Mindfulness is one of the core meditational practices of Buddhism. It focuses on situating oneself in the present, and becoming aware of subjective stream-of-consciousness thought (all intermingling thoughts and feelings experienced in the present moment). It is used for enhancing relaxation and well-being in daily life, and if practiced regularly, it can have substantial health benefits such as decreased stress, lowered blood pressure, and increased energy.
Between past and future – mindfulness in the present
In the mindfulness world view, a focus on the present is essential to daily wellbeing. Focusing too much on the past is often related to depression, with ruminations about past mistakes causing a lowered mood. Similarly, focusing too much on the future can be associated with anxiety, and a fear of future misfortunes can also cause stress and illness. Therefore, the present is seen as the ideal space for one to be in.
There are many different ways to achieve complete immersion in the present using mindfulness. You can use one technique that works for you, or combine several to suit your needs.
- Progressive Relaxation (Body Scan)
This technique involves isolating groups of muscles, and tensing and releasing them in succession whilst lying flat on your back (on a bed, sofa, or the floor). Start with your toes, tensing them for 30 seconds, and then releasing your muscles while breathing out slowly. Do the same for your legs, torso, arms, and finally face, tensing and releasing each part until you have made your way from your toes to your head. Finally, visualize your body sinking slowly into the floor/bed, focusing on the physical sensations.
- Focused Sensory Awareness
This mindfulness technique is best used outdoors, in nature. You can either choose a place to sit, or take a slow walk, focusing on all the sensory input as it comes to you. What can you hear? What can you see? Is there anything you missed upon your first glance? Do the same for all of your senses, and ground yourself in the physical environment. By taking a break from your thoughts, and breaking free of your internal world, you can connect with the present more easily.
- Mindful Breathing
This is perhaps the most familiar mindfulness technique, as it is used in all forms of meditation. Mindful breathing is the practice of deliberate, controlled breathing and focusing all thought on the bodily process of inhalation and exhalation. In the beginning, your thoughts will wander, which is why a mantra (a word one repeats continually while meditating) is very useful. Each time an outside thought enters, “bat” it away with your mantra. It can be any word, although the common Buddhist one is “om”, which is considered sacred and believed by some to be the infinite sound of the universe. Use your chosen mantra to centre yourself and draw your attention back to your breathing.
- Repetitive Visual Stimuli
Focusing on repetitive visual stimuli, such as fish swimming in an aquarium, or flames in a fire, can also keep you connected to the present moment. You can light a candle and focus on the flame for a few minutes at a time, using your mantra when you lose focus.
Mindfulness is very easy to incorporate into even the busiest of lives, as you can get effective results from even 5 minute sessions (e.g., 5 minutes of sensory awareness on your morning commute, 5 minutes of mindful breathing during your lunch break, and a 5-minute body scan exercise before bed). Frequent use of mindfulness can lower stress levels a great deal, and increase life satisfaction over time.