Mindfulness – how to stop racing thoughts

In this blog post I want to introduce the concept of mindfulness and share practical, simple ways to get you started on your journey.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness simply put is being fully present.

For me, its a practice I wasn’t aware I was even enjoying until I was struggling with anxiety and a stressful life situation.

Its that feeling when I’m on holiday and aware of all the details of my surroundings – a heightened awareness of the smells, sounds, sights and sensation.

The rationale behind mindfulness is the more you focus on the breath, the sights, smells, sounds and everything that goes with being present, the more the mind has time to switch off and take a break from the emotions that arise from our thoughts. In that present moment, any troubles, anxieties, sense of failures that are usually played out sometimes in a continous loop, are on hold and we can enjoy the present moment for what it is – our ticket for freedom and calm.

When you are truly present, and not clouded by the running autopilot of our thoughts, your mind really feels a tremendous sense of calm. I wanted to capture that feeling of sense of being energised and soothed, without having to be on a constant holiday.

Which resources can I use to learn more?

To learn more about mindful practice, I used a number of avenues. Firstly, Ted talks are a great way of learning more about the science of mindfulness and history. It may seem like a fad, but mediation has a history as long as religion. My favourite Ted talk on mindfulness has to be by the founder of the hugely useful app Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, in a talk entitled ‘All it takes is 10 mindful minutes’. His books are also really engaging.

Ruby Wax very recently spoke regarding mindfulness at a event hosted by The School of Life. If you follow wellness or Ted talks, you may have already seen a few of her talks already regarding her coping mechanisms for her mental health in a very honest and comical way.

Another source I’d recommend is Pema Chodrun, an American Buddhist. She has several talks, interviews and books on mindful practice and also dealing with difficult emotions. Her audiobook, ‘Getting Unstuck’, I found very insightful.

If you’re looking for guided practice, there are a few organisations that run workshops, from one day, to full on course to weekend mediation retreats. I attended The Mindfulness Project mindfulness course and found that engaging with a group was a great way in dipping into how to incorporate mindfulness as a daily practice.

Taking the first steps

For taking the first steps to practising mindfulness, I would recommend if possible to start outside in a nice spot, like a local park or garden. I always find being surrounded by nature very healing and especially for taking time out through mindfulness.

Start with getting comfortable and grounded. By that I mean – feel the surface you are sitting on, the little details of your feet against the ground and your hands touching the grass.

Notice the smells, and sounds around you. The noise of the wind rustling the leaves. The feel of the cool breeze against your cheek. The sound of birds singing nearby. The warmth as the sun sits on your shoulders.

Next start concentrating on your breath, with the absence of the usual commentary of the mind. This is difficult and does take time to switch off but each time you feel your mind wander, gently nudge it back to your breath. Notice the lungs moving up and down, the warmth of your breath and the noise as you inhale and exhale. The object is not that you do not have any thoughts. But rather to notice thoughts passing and rather engage, move back to the present and your breath.

Practice this for a couple of a minutes at a time. In the beginning, you may also find it very uncomfortable rather than relaxing just concentrating on your breath. And in the beginning, often your mind just takes a while to settle. Just keep pursuing it. You may then want to include the practice at home. I found starting outside then working to at home an easier way to incorporate it into daily practice.

I hope you find it useful and give mindfulness a go. It may be trending but that doesn’t disqualify how great it is!

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