• An Introduction To Mindfulness

    Written by Casey Douglass

    Photo used freely courtesy of Gratisography.

    Run your fingers over the edges of the device you're using to read this article, let your fingertips feel the texture, shape and possibly heat radiating from its surface. You may notice things you've never felt before, maybe an imperfection or a scratch, a change in the texture or shape. You may also notice that there is a certain kind of pleasure and mental release to resting your mind on a particular sense, a feeling of your other cares and concerns seeming a little further off, a little less scary. You've just practised mindfulness, and in those few seconds, you have also had a taste of the benefits mindfulness can bring. Mindfulness is basically bringing your awareness into the present moment in a relaxed and accepting way. However, like many things worth doing, that description makes it sound like it should be very easy to do. Well, it is and it isn't.

    Mindfulness seems to be very much the “in thing” at the moment, colouring and how-to books on display in shops across the land, promising the stressed and harassed shoppers the cure to all their ills if only they might doodle or read awhile. Beyond the obvious bandwagon jumping, mindfulness is something that many people and faiths have practised and enjoyed for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Not that you have to partake in mindfulness within the confines of a set belief system; you can still use the techniques and gain the benefits regardless.

    Practising mindfulness can bring a number of benefits to the mental and physical health of an ME/CFS sufferer. The relaxation induced can lower blood pressure, ease digestive troubles, reduce pain, give a better night's sleep and generally impart the sufferer with a lighter, less claustrophobic feeling towards the issues they may suffer with. Awareness of your thoughts, and the things that you might do less consciously, can also give you the tools and insight needed to change habits and attitudes that you weren't even aware of.

    Mindfulness practices can generally be split into two kinds: the “eyes closed sitting still” flavour, and the “doing tasks” variety. If you do decide to try mindfulness, be sure to try each kind, as you may find one style far more enjoyable than the other. Routine is also something that will help you to feel the effects of mindfulness, maybe engaging with the activity at certain times of day, before getting out of bed in the morning as an example. The next time this window of practice comes around, the repetition involved will aid you in getting into a mindful state.

    If you would like to try the relaxed variety of mindfulness, this is a technique that you might like to try:

    • Find somewhere comfortable to sit or lay back, close your eyes and settle yourself for a period of time. Even a small period of practice can have benefits, so if you can only do it for ten minutes, it's still well worth your time.

    • This variety of mindfulness lends itself well to settling the mind on the breath. Let yourself breathe normally, don't try to adjust your breathing or meddle with it in any way. Simply feel it. Notice the movements of your abdomen, the feeling of the cool air flowing into your nose, the sensation of the warmer air on the exhale warming the insides of your nostrils. It doesn't really matter if you continue to roam around your breathing sensations or decide to settle on one location for the duration, do what you feel happiest with.

    • You will soon find that thoughts will arise and often, take you away from your focus. If you notice that you have become lost in thought and have moved your mind onto the washing up that is still waiting in the sink, try to acknowledge it and gently bring your mind back to your breath.

    • Don't chastise yourself for any lapses, the whole point of the practice is to let you become more aware of this kind of thing. You might also gain some insight into just how your mind works, what kinds of thoughts arise and fade with regularity. These kinds of insights can carry through into your next anxiety attack, angry outburst or upsetting event, so this practice rewards in more ways than one.

    • When you have finished your session, don't judge your success by how many times you lost your awareness. A session with your mind wandering and brought back one hundred times is just as valuable as one in which your focus didn't waver once, if not more so.

    • It helps if you go into mindfulness with a friendly attitude of curiosity, a sense of exploration and wonder at what you might discover. A feeling of acceptance is also helpful, being prepared to accept your experience without judgement eases any background tensions that might arise from judging what happens.

    Mentioning the washing up in that last example gives me a great chance to use it for an example of the more active variety of mindfulness. This entails the same kind of approach as above, but the practiser is performing some kind of task or movement with their eyes open and with the appropriate level of control that the task requires; safety matters after all.

    • Watch the water flowing from the tap, the light streaking down the edge of the cascade. Smell the fragrance of the washing up liquid as you squirt it into the bowl. Feel the temperature of the water, the bubbles on your hands. As you reach for the first plate, experience the muscles in your arm as you stretch out, the flexing of your fingers, the smooth feel of the plate once grasped in your hand.

    • Do you see? You haven't even washed one plate yet and already there is so much you can take the time to experience and enjoy. Mindfulness can certainly add a relaxed pace to the washing up!

    • If you find a rush of impatience swell in your chest a mere two plates into the wash, feel it, really feel it by pausing and paying attention.

    • Notice your thoughts. Don't judge them. If you want to label them, you can do so by thinking “Thought”, which often helps them to lose a little importance.

    • Resume the washing up and carry on being mindful of what you experience. You never know, mindful washing up could soon become one of the pleasures of your day! Don't laugh!

    Mindfulness brings us closer to what is really happening inside and around us, potentially revealing the myriad wonders of everyday tasks, or the things we might be doing to trip ourselves up. Mindful eating can be a particular boon, especially if you have more often than not sat down to eat and suddenly realised you have finished your meal minutes later, with no real feeling of having eaten it. A mindful dining experience tends to enhance the joy of eating, allowing you to notice the flavours, feel the food going down, and more than likely, ends with you eating less because you feel satisfied sooner. If you have a habit, addiction or personality issue, mindfulness can highlight it if you were unaware, and even help you break the chain of urge and fulfilment.

    I don't mean to paint mindfulness as some wondrous trick that will make everything all right. Your life will still have struggles and pain, but a mindful attitude and a full experiencing of the sensations that these events can bring can lend a “realness” to things that seems far healthier than recoiling in fear. Mindfulness is not a substitute for getting proper medical advice or treatment however, so don't delay in getting professional medical help for something if it is available.

    If you would like to find out more about mindfulness, there are a plenty of books and websites available that go into far greater depth than I've been able to here. If what you've read or experienced has kindled a curiosity about mindfulness in a more philosophical or religious framework, you might like to find books with a more Buddhist or Zen aspect, although most religions will probably have their own version of mindfulness or meditation too.

    I wish you the best of luck and remember...Stay Mindful!