What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about developing the skill for being more present, rather than living in the past or the future. It is about learning how to change the habits of inattention and distraction, and how to stay in the present moment. This is really useful for study. Mindfulness means paying attention with flexibility, openness and curiosity.
Guidelines for practice
Although mindfulness has effective benefits for many conditions that are well researched, there are some mental health diagnoses that may not respond well or could be unsuitable to practice mindfulness alone. It is important that you seek professional advice, such as Counselling Services La Trobe University for further support and advice.
The following are some skills required for mindfulness practice:
- Observation. Mindfulness is the skill of observing the environment, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations you are experiencing without reacting to them or judging them. As your thoughts come and go, popping in and out, let them, as you gain control of your attention, not what pops up. Cling to nothing, push nothing away.
- Describing. Stay with the raw description of your sensations, emotions, and thoughts. There is no right or wrong, simply what is.
- Participation. Mindfulness requires practice to unhook from worrying thoughts or thoughts of perfection. There is no mastery of mindfulness and it is in doing it for 30 seconds, a minute or more that is the key.
- Non-judgementally. Stay with what is actually there, not the 'shoulds' or 'musts', the 'good' or the 'right'. Take your thoughts, emotions and sensations for what they are. Accept them as they come. The habit of judging is hard to break. Try not to be hard on yourself if you notice you judge a lot. It will take time to look at your thoughts, emotions and images differently.
- One-focus Only. Focus on one activity and keep on track with this only, e.g., by focussing on your breath, you use the breath as an anchor, and when your mind wanders you unhook from the distractions and return to the breath.
The La Trobe University Counselling Services Mindfulness CD has the following tracks to assist you with your practice.
Introduction - mindfulness defined
An introduction to mindfulness
Mindfulness is a well-researched and popular topic in Western psychology, increasingly recognised as an effective way to reduce stress and manage your mind. Mindfulness will undermine destructive emotions, thoughts and behaviours.
Mindfulness is a skill to practice, it is not about finding the time or amount of time, it is simply doing it within your everyday that matters. There are many ways to do mindfulness. Mindfulness is cultivated by paying attention, on purpose and carefully - to the contents of this moment in a friendly and allowing way.
Although mindfulness is difficult to define, here are some ways to conceptualise it:
- Mindfulness means paying attention with flexibility, openness and curiosity
- Mindfulness is about developing the skill for being more present rather than living in the past or the future.
- It is about learning how to change the habits of inattention and distraction and how to stay in the present moment
- Mindfulness involves consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience
- John Kabat-Zinn, a world authority on the use of mindfulness, defines it as ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally’. It is the ‘art of conscious living'.
Some of the benefits of doing mindfulness helps you in the following ways:
- You can experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings safely
- Become less reactive to unpleasant experiences
- To improve concentration and memory
- It will help you to manage pain better
- Learn that everything changes; that thoughts and feelings come and go like the weather
- You will experience more calm and peacefulness
- Mindfulness will help you develop self-acceptance and self-compassion.
Finally, mindfulness is about waking up, connecting with ourselves and appreciating the fullness of each moment of life. It is a profound way to enhance psychological and emotional resilience and increase life satisfaction.
The Counselling Services Department has put together a Mindfulness CD to aid our La Trobe University students to begin engaging in mindfulness practice. We will talk you through each exercise. Each exercise will begin with the sound of the bells purely for starting out your mindfulness practice. So let’s begin your journey of mindfulness practice.
10 count breathing
10 count breathing
Place your body in the mindfulness position, take a couple of seconds to focus on your body whilst settling into this exercise.
We’ll begin with a focus on breathing and extend or focus our attention by counting the breathe. So let’s begin with 3-count breathing. 3-count breathing is an exercise that’s used often to deal with anxiety so it’s a useful strategy to learn.
When you do 3-count breathing, I’d like you to breathe with me though a cycle on every second. So breathing in…1…2…3 out 1…2…3… in…1…2…3 out 1…2…3… As you breath and count, imagine the numbers or quietly whisper them to yourself imagine that your whole body is breathing in and counting, focusing all our mind and attention on the breath and counting. In…1…2…3… out 1…2…3… in…1…2…3 out…1…2…3 continue breathing in this pattern for the next brief period. Your mind will wander, that is ok, when you notice simply bring your attention back to counting 1…2…3…1…2…3…
Now let go of your attention on your breathing and return to normal breathing. Again bring your attention to focus on movement in your body. Wiggle your fingers and toes. Now in your own time, bring your focus back to the room and gently open your eyes and focus on the room.
Today we will start with a 10 count breathing exercise. This practice takes into account that it is difficult to focus your mind at times. This practice gives you something to do whilst breathing so it is most useful for a beginner. You out the first 10 breathes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 then start again at 1. Simply counting the breaths. Somewhere along the way you may lose count or start thinking of something else. That is ok. Bring your attention back to 1 breath. Some people count past 10. If you notice this and get to 25 that is ok. Bring your attention back to 1.
Let’s begin. Start by placing your body in a mindfulness position, feet flat on the floor, straight back, shoulders relaxes, eyes closed, in a position where you are less likely to move. Start by bringing your attention on your breath.
What I would like you to do is to bring your attention back into your body as you breath, bringing your attention into the present moment, into the simple movement of your body. When you are ready begin counting the number of breaths, making sure that they are just normal, light even breaths and count through to 10. Breath in 1, breath out, 2, breath in 3, breath out, 4, continue counting in this way until you reach 10. When you get to 10, begin at 1 again. If along the way you get lost because your mind drifts, this is ok, begin again at number 1 counting though 10 breaths then beginning at 1 again.
Gently and in your own time, release your concentration, as we release this mindfulness practice. Open your eyes and focus on the room around you. Move and or stretch your body as we finish.
Mindfulness of the breath
This is an exercise with a single focus mindfulness practice using the breath as your anchor.
1. Bring attention to your breathing.
2. Follow the air as it comes in through your nostrils and goes down to the bottom of your lungs. Then follow it as it goes back out again.
3. Follow the air, as if you’re riding the waves of your breathing
4. Notice the air move in and out of your nostrils…how it’s slightly warmer as it comes out and cooler as it goes in
5. Notice the gentile rise and fall off your abdomen (belly)
6. Fix your attention on one of these areas, whichever you prefer; on the breath moving in and out of the nostrils, on the rise and falling of the ribcage, or the rising and falling of the abdomen (belly)
7. Fix your attention on one of these areas, whichever you prefer; on the breath moving in and out of the nostrils, on the rising and falling of the ribcage, or the rising and falling of the abdomen.
8. Keep your attention on this spot, noticing the movement – in and out – of the breath.
9. Whatever feelings, urges or sensations arise, whether pleasant or unpleasant, gently acknowledge them – as if nodding your head at people passing by you on the street. Gently acknowledge their presence, and let them be. Allow them to come and go as they please, and keep your attention on the breath.
10. Whatever thoughts, images or memories arise, whether comfortable or uncomfortable, simply acknowledge them and allow them to be. Let them come and come and go as they please, and keep your attention on the breath.
11. From time to time, your attention will become distracted by thoughts or feelings. Each time this happens, notice what distracted you, then bring your attention back to the breath. No matter how often your attention wanders off – whether a hundred times or a thousand – your aim is to simply to note what distracted you, and bring your attention back to the breath.
12. There is no need to be frustrated or impatient or disappointed when you get carried off by your thoughts. It is the same for everyone. Our minds naturally distract us from what we are doing. So each time you realise your attention has wandered, gently acknowledge it, notice what distracted you, and return your attention to the breath.
13. If frustration, boredom, anxiety, impatience or other feelings arise, simply acknowledge them, and maintain your focus on the breath.
14. No matter how often your attention wanders, gently acknowledge it, not what distracted you, and gently bring your attention back to the breath.
15. When you are ready, bring yourself back to the room and open your eyes.
Practise Instructions: Initially practise this for 5 minutes twice a day. Aim to increase the duration by 2 or 3 minutes every few days, until you can do this for 15-20 minutes at a time. Even if you only practise this for one minute each day, that is better that not practising at all.
Mindfulness of thoughts
This practice enables you to experience all thoughts as simply thoughts to notice. You will learn not to respond or react to every thought.
In the following exercise, thoughts can be like butterflies. If you hold onto them too tightly or attempt to push them away, they will overwhelm you or remain lifeless in your hands.
Let’s begin. Settle into a comfortable position with your feet firmly on the ground and sitting up in your chair like you are waiting for a bus. Notice the weight of your body in the chair and the support of your feet on the floor.
Gently close your eyes. Start by taking a few deep breaths, with the air coming in and out through your nostrils. Then gently allow your breathe to return to whatever rhythm feels natural for you at the moment.
Picture yourself sitting in a field on a warm summer day. There is a slight breeze and you can feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Just take a few moments to connect with this scene.
As you relax into your experience, your thoughts may begin to wander and they become a steady stream of butterflies flying past you. There are a wide variety of butterflies in the stream…some are fabulous…comforting…and attractive…while others are unappealing…critical…and judgmental. You feel completed to reach out and hold onto the comforting butterflies, while pushing away the critical unappealing ones.
Take your right hand and hold it to your body lightly as if you are embracing the comforting butterflies. Then take your left hand and begin swatting away the unappealing ones. Notice your thoughts and sensations in your body as you are trying to do this.
As you continue to struggle with all the butterflies, you may slowly begin to realise that those thoughts that you have been trying to push away, may out-number those you were trying so hard to hold on to.
As you continue to struggle with all the butterflies, you may slowly begin to realise that those that you had been trying to push away, may out-number those you were trying so hard to hold on to.
Now rest your hands back onto your lap again and simply notice all the butterflies.
Thoughts can be like the butterflies if you hold onto them too tightly or attempt to push them away, they will overwhelm you or remain lifeless in your hands.
However, if you are willing to begin observing thoughts, regardless of how you feel, as if they are butterflies landing in the palm of your hand, they will eventually fly away, making room for other thoughts and experiences to present themselves.
Now gently and in your own time, bring your attention back to the breath releasing your focus on your thoughts. Shift in your chair and you may like to have a stretch.
Mindfulness of sound
This mindfulness practice is particularly useful for anxiety as it gives you an external focus and time-out from worrying thoughts.
Bring your attention to your ears and then allow awareness to expand and open…so you just hear the sounds around you…not searching, just being receptive to al the different sounds…those far away…in the distance…and to your left or right…or behind…in the room and outside…louder sounds…and soft ones…some pleasant…others may be sharp…ones you like…and don’t like…inside your own body and others too…all the different sounds with a wide spacious awareness letting everything come to you…the sounds and also the spaces between them…silence…hearing the sounds as separate from your thoughts…pure sensations from the ears…and catching yourself when you become distracted and involved with thinking…being gentle with yourself and coming back to the sounds…letting go of the thoughts…the sounds in space with a spacious mind noticing all the subtleties…the softness…whenever you notice you’ve lost your focus on the sounds gently check where the mind has moved to …and then come back to the sounds as they arise from one moment to the next…
With the same expanded awareness letting go of the sounds and becoming aware of the thoughts…the passing images…memories…self-talk…all the different kinds of events in your mind…noticing when they arise and watching them pass…as though your thoughts were a movie with you just following along…not getting involved but noticing…observing…the thoughts rising and passing away…having the same relaxed attention…there is no need to make thoughts come of go…just let them arise naturally, in the same way that you related to the sounds arising and passing away…not trying to control the thoughts…letting them come…and pass away…just watching…continuing on like this for a few minutes now in silence.
This exercise is a way to ‘check in’ with our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. We are aiming to notice the sensations we find in our body, without trying to change them or to improve them.
This exercise in mindfulness is a quick check in to notice what sensations that our body might be carrying at any time of the day and to notice any feelings that we may be holding. The body is always working with the mind so the body scan is a way to check in with our mental and emotional wellbeing. We are aiming to notice the sensations we find in our body, without trying to change them or improve them. For example, you might find tension or an itch or a sore spot. See if you can be willing to let that sensation be as it is and observe it without trying to change it in any way. Of course you still have the option of choosing to do something to relieve a sensation if it is very intense.
You can do this body scan exercise standing up or sitting down as long as you can ground yourself in the moment. That is placing your feet squarely on the ground and feeling the connection between you and the ground.
Let us begin…
Let go of your thoughts and narrow your focus now to the attention of your breath… Bring your attention inwards to your breathing…Notice your breath without changing it or forcing it in any way. Just allow your breath to be what it is…Let this gently rhythmic flow of your ‘in’ and ‘out’ breath come naturally…gently…rhythmically…and if you are comfortable with it, you may close your eyes now as we scan regions of the body…
1. Allow your breathing to settle and recede into the background as you slowly and gradually start to bring your focus and attention now away from your breathing and down to your feet. Noticing the sensations in your feet…notice the temperature…notice your toes…just stay with the physical sensations of your feet and toes, as they are…as you find them…
2. Now gradually bring your attention to your knees…noticing any sensation in your knees…the right and the left knee…whatever sensations you may have, just take a neutral stance and simply observe the physical sensations in your knees…
3. Now slowly and gradually bring your attention to your stomach…notice the sensations in your stomach…notice if your stomach is feeling full or empty…notice if there are any gurgling noises and any tightness…any pain…whatever the physical sensations in your stomach may be, stay neutral and don’t judge anything…simply remain present and aware to whatever there is…
4. Shifting your focus and attention now away from the stomach to your chest…notice the sensations in your chest…be aware of any particular tightness or heaviness in your chest…notice too your breathing around the chest area…notice perhaps the rise and fall of the chest as you track an ‘in’ breath and ‘out’ breath…
5. Now gradually shift your attention from your chest to your shoulders…noticing the left and the right shoulder…being aware of any particular sensation sin our shoulders…just observe whatever there may be…not judging it…not wishing it to be anything other than what is tis…simply accepting wherever sensations may be there….
6. Gradually move your attention from your shoulders, down to your arms…your hands…your fingers…pay close attention to your hands and fingers…noticing the physical sensations that may be present there…noticing the temperature of your hands and fingers…
7. Gradually now shift your attention from your hands and fingers back up to your shoulders and down to your back…the lower and upper back…notice the particular physical sensations in your back…down your spine…just observe and note whatever sensations you find…if there is tension, there is tension, if there is stiffness, there is stiffness, let go of the desire or wish for the back sensation to be different…stay neutral and simply observe the sensations in your back…
8. From the back, let your attention travel up the spine to your neck…rest your attention on the neck…the front and the back of your neck…the muscles in your neck…just breathing in and out and noticing the sensations in your neck…
9. Finally now…bring your attention and awareness to the entirety of your head…see your face…your eyes…your nose…your hair…cheekbones…your mouth…your lips…tongue and your jaws…Notice in particular your jaws and if you are clenching or tightening the jaws…notice whatever particular sensations may be there and let them be…simply observe…
10. Now before we finish, move your attention to your body as a whole, observe the outline of your body…the whole of your body…simply being aware and fully present to your body as a whole…noticing all the sensations in your body and letting them be…
When you feel ready, start to open your eyes, slowly return your attention and awareness back to the room and your surroundings, stretch out if you need to.
Mindfulness of an object
This practice of focusing on something outside of ourselves is very useful when we are feeling agitated or anxious. This exercise is about observing without judgement. The idea of this exercise is to describe and focus.
This exercise is about moving your attention to something outside you. You can pick any object that you can see and one of the most useful is your hands, as you have them with you already. So, in this case, we will be practicing mindfulness of the hand. This practice of focusing on something outside of ourselves is very useful when we are feeling agitated or anxious. This exercise is also useful for observing without judgement, the idea is not to criticise your hands, the idea is just to notice and describe.
Settle into a comfortable position. Start by placing your feet squarely on the ground and sitting up in your chair so your back is straight, not rigid. Check that your head feels square on your shoulders and place your arms in a comfortable position at your side or on your lap. Gently close your eyes. If you’re not comfortable closing your eyes, close them half way and focus them on a non – distracting spot in front of you. The purpose of this posture is to help you stay awake and alert as you practice mindfulness.
Start by taking a few deep breaths, with the air coming in and out through your nostrils. Pause. Then gently allow your breath to return to whatever rhythm feels natural for you at the moment. See if you can become aware of those parts of your body that are coming into contact with the chair you are sitting on, and notice your feet on the ground. Now open your eyes and bring attention to the back of your hand (either hand it doesn’t matter).
Just notice the back of your hand. Try not to move it. Describe how they look. Notice the lines on your hands. See the lines and veins.
Pretend that you are an alien and this is the first time that you have seen a hand. What do you see now? Look at your hand in wonder, can you imagine it’s potential? Imagine when you were a baby with brand new hands, now notice the years of labour and experience that your hands have been through. Your inner child loves your hand, it has helped you explore the world. You have held hands with others and others have held your hand, they are tools and they are a way to express yourself.
Thank your hand and return to the breath.
Notice the room and when you are ready, let go of this exercise. You might like to shift of have a stretch.
This exercise is really beneficial when you want to have a break from your thoughts and feelings and to get some fresh air. It can supplement your fitness regime which is extremely important to reducing stress.
Walking as a mindfulness exercise is really beneficial when you want ot have a break from your thoughts and feelings and to get some fresh air. It also encourages you to think about exercise I na mental wellness regime. It doesn’t matter where you walk or how far you walk, the object of this exercise is to ‘be in the moment’. To begin with only walk short distances.
Find an area that you are familiar with, easy to access and safe to walk around, for example your local park or around the block. Try to choose a local area that is easy access with plenty of trees and as little traffic as possible.
Remember to get grounded, that is, notice your feet on the ground, the connection between your feet and the ground, and becoming aware of the support of the ground. Start by taking a few deep breaths, with the air coming in through your nostrils and going out through your mouth. Then gently allow your breath to return to whatever rhythm feels natural for you at the moment.
As you begin your walk, notice everything that you can see, smell, hear and feel and then describe them without criticism or judgement. Notice the sights of the trees, flowers, houses, birds, animals and people. Notice the smells around you as you are in this walk. Notice the sounds that you can hear near and far as you are in this walk. Notice the sensations of the breeze, air and sun as you are in this walk.
Taking all of this in, let yourself be in this moment fully, responding to whatever is reflected in this moment through your senses. Give your attention to the colours that the environment reflects. If there is sunshine, be mindful to that and the beauty inherent to the sun and damp that brings forth life and nourishes living things. Do all that you can to abandon yourself to this moment.
If along the way you get lost in your thoughts, feelings or memories because your mind drifts, this is ok, unhook from those thoughts, feelings and memories and start to describe something you see.
The mind is amazing in the ability to take us to wherever it wants to, simply notice this and come back to this moment in this walk. Bringing your attention to the sounds around you now being present in your walk. Feel your feet touching the ground and lifting, noticing your stride as you walk along at whatever pace is natural to you.
Continue on this way until you decide to finish your walk. When you have finished your walk, bring your attention back to the everyday things and move out of the exercise.
Mindfulness of emotions
This powerful exercise helps us to stand back from the emotion and understand it, not to fear it or struggle against it. It can help you to identify the emotion as a feeling rather than a fact or behaviour.
We often start to learn mindfulness skills by focusing our attention on our breath, our bodies, the environment or activities. Being mindful of emotions helps us to stand back from the emotion, understand it, not to fear it or struggle against it, and it can have the added benefit of reducing the distress (although the aim is to learn to accept the experience, rather than lessen the distress).
Set aside a few minutes when you can be quiet and won’t be disturbed.
Start by bringing your attention to your breath. Notice your breathing as you slowly breathe in and out, perhaps imagining you have a balloon in your belly, noticing the sensations in your belly as the balloon inflates on the in-breath, and deflates on the out-breath.
Notice the feelings, and what it feels like.
Name the emotion: What is it? What word best describes what you are feeling? Angry, sad, anxious, irritated, scared, frustrated…
Accept the emotion. It’s a normal body reaction. It can be helpful to understand how it came about – what it was, the set of circumstances that contributed to you feeling this way. Don’t condone or judge the emotion. Simply let it move through you without resisting it, struggling against it, or encouraging it.
Investigate the emotion. How intensely do you feel it? How are you breathing? What are you feeling in your body? Where do you feel it? What’s your posture like when you feel this emotion? Where do you notice muscle tension? What’s your facial expression? What does your face feel like? Is anything changing? (nature, position, intensity)
What thoughts or judgements do you notice? Just notice those thoughts. Allow them to come into your mind, and allow them to pass. Any time you find that you’re engaging with the thoughts – judging them or yourself for having them, believing them, struggling against them, just notice, and bring your attention back to your breathing, and to the physical sensations of the emotion.
If any other emotions come up, if anything changes, simply notice and repeat the steps above. Just notice that the feelings change over time. As you become more practised, you can use this mindfulness technique when you feel more intense emotion.
This practice can be incorporated into your daily life without too much effort. This exercise will give you greater insight into your eating pattern and ‘how’ you eat.
Throughout this exercise, all sorts of thoughts and feelings will arise. Let them come and go, and keep your attention on the exercise. If you realise that your attention has wondered, briefly note what distracted you and then bring your attention back to the sultana.
Let us begin.
Take hold of the sultana. First look at it as if you’re a curious scientist who has never seen such a thing before. Notice the shape, colour, the different shades of colour, the parts where light bounces off the surface, the contours, the pit where the stalk was attached.
Notice the weight of it in your hand and feel the skin against your fingers: its texture and temperature. Raise it to your nose and smell it. Notice the aroma. Raise it to your mouth and pause for a moment before biting into it. Bring your attention to what is happening inside your mouth: notice the salivation around your tongue and the urge to bite into it.
Now slowly bite it in half, noticing your teeth breaking through the skin and sinking into the flesh and the sound that makes, and the sensation of sweetness on your tongue.
Notice your teeth meeting, and the feel of the sultana falling onto your tongue, and the urge to chew it and swallow it.
Chew it slowly, noticing the taste and texture. Notice the movement of your jaws, the sound that chewing makes, the sensation of the flesh breaking down. Notice how your tongue shapes the food.
Notice your urge to swallow – and as you do swallow, notice the movement in your throat, and the sound it makes.
And after you’ve swallowed, pause and notice the way the taste gradually disappears from your tongue. Notice your growing urge to eat the remaining half.
Now eat the rest of the sultana in the same way.
Bubble of awareness
This exercise allows you to practice being in the moment for just three minutes. It will enable you to be present right here and now, getting grounded in the moment. Very handy for concentrating on assignments or exams!
Sit in a comfortable and upright position, drop your shoulders and open your chest, gently close your eyes, and bring your attention to your breath. Take a couple of deep breaths and then allow your breathing to return to normal.
During the first minute, try to simply notice your thoughts and feelings. Imaging a ‘bubble of awareness’ that is only the size of your head and heart. What are you thinking about? What are you feeling right now in this moment? Remember, nothing outside of your frame of awareness matters right now. Give yourself permission to focus on noticing your thoughts and feelings as they occur. Once you have noticed them, try to be aware of them like reading a billboard and simply allowing them to move on and leave your ‘bubble of awareness’. Continue throughout the rest of this first minute by noticing whatever thought or feeling arises next.
During the second minute, expand your ‘bubble of awareness’ to include your physical sensations. Add your physical self to your frame of awareness over your body and notice any sensations. Add your physical self to your frame of awareness and simply notice the sensations in your body. What does it feel like to be in your body right now? What sensations do you notice? Scan your awareness over your body and notice any sensations you might be feeling in any part of your body. Again, just note them and then allow them to move on. Do your best to allow the sensations to move on just as easily as they first arose. Notice any thought or feeling that arises out of noticing your body or that simply pops into your head and allow them to be as you notice your body movement.
In the final minute, again, expand your ‘bubble of awareness’, this time to include the space around you. As you do this, maintain your awareness of thoughts and feelings as well as your physical sensations. Notice the room or area around you. What do you hear? What do you hear that is close and what do you hear that is far? What do you smell? Open your eyes and notice what you can see. Notice the stimuli of your present space and then allow them to move on from your focus. As the third minute comes to a close, bring your attention back to your breath and move out of this mindfulness exercise.