As soon as I announced I was looking into self care I had a load of requests my way to look into mindfulness, so here I am today delivering you with the low down you’ve all been asking for! As well as mindfulness in relation to self care I’m also going to be tying it in to ethical living, because that’s what this blog is all about of course, and I think these three elements are intrinsically linked. I totally understand why so many of you guys asked me to look into mindfulness. I’ve been watching Camille Rowe’s series on the idea of ‘wellness’ on the British Vogue YouTube channel and I realised mindfulness is totally in the same strain; a buzzword that’s thrown around like wildfire, many of us hear about it but we don’t really get it. The word itself can also cause a bit of panic: if I don’t understand being mindful that must mean I’m not being mindful so therefore I must be being careless all the time aka I’m a garbage human right?! Nope. Do not worry. Instead, let’s just dive right in. Disclaimer: I am not a scientist or expert, I’m just a normal human person who has set about to research this for you guys and give my opinions. My word is not doctrine.
What is mindfulness?
The first definition you’ll find of mindfulness in the dictionary is “the state or quality of being conscious or aware of something”, which isn’t too exciting. However the second describes mindfulness as ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.’ Mindfulness to me sounded like the concept of a constant heightened state of being, like those movies where the characters are suddenly able to use 100% of their brain instead of 10% and they become weirdly hyperaware and powerful. However, the reality is much more simple and much less sci-fi. Mindfulness is essentially a practice that focuses on self awareness. It also has strong associations with yoga philosophies and buddhism, but that doesn’t mean you have to believe in these philosophies to practise it, as many utilise it purely for health purposes. Mindfulness is a type of mental training, not a religion.
What does it look like?
Mindfulness meditation centres around breathing, usually consisting of focusing your full attention on the breath as it comes in and out of the body. Through focusing on each physical breath you are able to observe thoughts as they appear in your mind and let go of them. The idea is that through this you realise that thoughts simply come and go, you are not defined by your thoughts and you are not your thoughts, they appear and disappear transiently and you can observe this happen. This kind of separating of yourself from your thoughts gives you agency, as you can choose whether you act on them. Mindfulness is also about being kind to yourself, observing without criticising. If you feel sad, stressed or angry you can choose not to act on these thoughts but instead observe with a kind of curiosity, and allow them to drift past. In this way you can recognise a negative thought as it comes before it knocks you into a downward spiral. There are a multitude of techniques and methods when it comes to this, but that’s the basic idea.
I’m sure to some, this sounds kinda crazy, however I have actually used this method before and found it to work. I remember when I was training in contemporary dance these techniques, whilst never specifically defined like ‘you guys are doing mindfulness now’, were used in a lot of my creative and technique classes in my final year. I found this super helpful when it came to making things, which in itself can be a risky and vulnerable place to be in. When you weren’t happy with what you were producing we were trained to approach with curiosity instead of frustration. At the same time when I had to perform something that was particularly dark I practised similar techniques in order to separate myself from the performance when it was over. When I was touring last year I found this integral because some of the work was very emotionally driven, but by finding ways to mentally stand aside and be able to observe, I wasn’t consumed or defined by these things. (Hope that makes sense)
The NHS also talks about mindfulness in a broader, day to day sense outside of specific meditation practises:
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.
“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says. “An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs. Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment. It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
Personally, I think both of these definitions are helpful because they talk about different things, specifically meditative and on the go contexts, and I think both work depending on on your situation. I’ve definitely had times when I’ve gone outside and made an effort to really notice and take in the things around me, and I’ve found it really useful for getting outside of my own head. I guess both of these things are about getting out of the feeling of being completely out of control, instead of being controlled by emotions and situations around us, we can have a say.
How can mindfulness be good for me?
Again, to quote the NHS:
Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better. When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience afresh things that we have been taking for granted.
“Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience,” says Professor Williams, “and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful. This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control us. Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: ‘Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?’ Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better.”
Mindfulness can help with long-term changes in mood, happiness and wellbeing levels through heightened awareness. It can positively affect brain patterns underlying day to day anxiety, stress or depression and help us to let go of these things much more easily. As a person who has had struggles with mental health over my life, I have found mindfulness techniques to help me. That being said, mental health is of course a very personal situation, so if it doesn’t work for you that’s ok! It might not be the best decision for your state anyway, as covered in the video below (have a watch). Also, mindfulness can be used as an effective technique for managing physical pain and discomfort (which I find incredible).
How can I practise mindfulness?
Ok so if you’re wanting to explore this for yourself, I recommend watching this video from Dr Trudi Edginton, Senior Lecturer of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Westminster in collaboration with the charity Shine (spoiler, Trudi is GREAT and I love her):
As Trudi explains here, she teaches mindfulness and there are a collection of techniques that can be taught. There are books and resources floating around everywhere these days so it seems kinda daunting, but I would say don’t try and go it alone, find someone who can teach you. The NHS recommend Be Mindful as they have both an online course and a directory of teachers in the UK. With so many resources out there it’s hard to know where to start, so I think start with a human who knows how to train and help you and go from there.
How does mindfulness relate to ethical living?
I think it’s the exact same as my thoughts on general self care. In order to live well we have to treat ourselves well too. However, with the choice of an ethical lifestyle comes a heightened awareness of a lot of injustice in the world. The reason why so many people are able to live without these principles is because it is often hidden injustice: sweatshops far away or animals in labs we never see. If you’re consciously trying to live a more ethical lifestyle you don’t have the ability to ignore these things, so you can a lot weighing on your mind, I know I do anyway. It’s hard for me sometimes to see people wearing or using something that I personally would not go near, and then I struggle because I also don’t want to be judgemental towards them, so it’s a double whammy of negative emotions! It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by all of the bad thoughts and awarenesses that come with trying to change these circumstances, which is part of the reason I wrote my post on doing what you can, but I find that mindfulness really helps to deal with this element of the ethical lifestyle. Like Trudi says, we can choose to follow that thought. So instead of following the thought of anger or despair, I choose to follow a thought that motivates me into action, that makes me work harder to try and spread the ethical message. In this way I’m more productive in actually being the change I want to see instead of lamenting about how terrible the world is, and it’s better for my mental health.
So there you go guys! Some research and thoughts on mindfulness. I hope it helped you in some way. Remember to keep being kind to yourself, and if any of you try it out let me know how you get on.
Until next time, stay magic y’all.