Living Mindfully

by Simon Heale LCSP NRHP

Mindfulness Teacher and Coach at Chelsea Natural Health, Fulham Road, Sw10

You can enjoy a life which is slower, more still and equally productive

You can live a rich and meaningful life

You can live a life free from debilitating stress, anxiety or depression

You can have a life of improved health, fulfilling relationships and meaningful work

What happens to you when you read these apparently bold statements? What thoughts are going through your mind? What feelings are present in your body? What has happened to your breathing?

If any of the statements above illicit strong or familiar responses such as unhelpful, challenging thoughts, or resonant, uncomfortable feelings in your body, then I have good news for you.

You are human!

We all experience thoughts and feelings that challenge, nag, remind, worry us on a daily basis. This is what the mind does, it is constantly searching for answers, surveying the landscape for clues, threats and possibilities: for our survival.

But whereas our more primitive ancestors needed this mechanism to stay alive, we have less need to be on the alert to the extent that most of us are. The mechanism we do have is the ability to notice what we are noticing. Then we are able to make a clearer choice of what needs to happen. This is responding rather than reacting.

One way to learn how to respond to this world and all it presents to us, one healthy way, as there are plenty of unhealthy options (food, drugs, alcohol, excesses of all kinds), is this thing called Mindfulness.

The following is an extract from an article in the Harvard Health Publications:

It’s a busy world. You fold the laundry while keeping one eye on the kids and another on the television. You plan your day while listening to the radio and commuting to work, and then plan your weekend. But in the rush to accomplish necessary tasks, you may find yourself losing your connection with the present moment — missing out on what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Did you notice whether you felt well-rested this morning or that forsythia is in bloom along your route to work?

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment — and accepting it without judgment. Mindfulness is now being examined scientifically and has been found to be a key element in happiness.

Ancient roots, modern applications

The cultivation of mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, but most religions include some type of prayer or meditation technique that helps shift your thoughts away from your usual preoccupations toward an appreciation of the moment and a larger perspective on life.

Professor emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, helped to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health attitudes and behaviours.

Mindfulness improves well being

  • Increasing your capacity for mindfulness supports many attitudes that contribute to a satisfied life.
  • Being mindful makes it easier to savour the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events.
  • By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others.

Mindfulness improves physical health

If greater well-being isn’t enough of an incentive, scientists have discovered the benefits of mindfulness techniques help improve physical health in a number of ways. Mindfulness can:

  • help relieve stress
  • treat heart disease
  • lower blood pressure
  • reduce chronic pain
  • improve sleep
  • alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.

Mindfulness improves mental health

In recent years, psychotherapists have turned to mindfulness meditation as an important element in the treatment of a number of problems, including:

  • depression
  • substance abuse
  • eating disorders
  • couples’ conflicts
  • anxiety disorders
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Some experts believe that mindfulness works, in part, by helping people to accept their experiences — including painful emotions — rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance.

It’s become increasingly common for mindfulness meditation to be combined with psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. This development makes good sense, since both meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy share the common goal of helping people gain perspective on irrational, maladaptive, and self-defeating thoughts.

Mindfulness Techniques
There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment. All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation.
Basic mindfulness meditation – Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.
Body sensations – Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
Sensory – Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
Emotions – Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.”Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.

How to Practice

Some types of meditation primarily involve concentration — repeating a phrase or focusing on the sensation of breathing, allowing the parade of thoughts that inevitably arise to come and go. Concentration meditation techniques, as well as other activities such as tai chi or yoga, can induce the well-known relaxation response, which is very valuable in reducing the body’s response to stress.

Mindfulness meditation builds upon concentration practices. Here’s how it works:

  • Go with the flow. In mindfulness meditation, once you establish concentration, you observe the flow of inner thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judging them as good or bad.
  • Pay attention. You also notice external sensations such as sounds, sights, and touch that make up your moment-to-moment experience. The challenge is not to latch onto a particular idea, emotion, or sensation, or to get caught in thinking about the past or the future. Instead you watch what comes and goes in your mind, and discover which mental habits produce a feeling of well-being or suffering.
  • Stay with it. At times, this process may not seem relaxing at all, but over time it provides a key to greater happiness and self-awareness as you become comfortable with a wider and wider range of your experiences.

Practice acceptance

Above all, mindfulness practice involves accepting whatever arises in your awareness at each moment. It involves being kind and forgiving toward yourself. Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about noticing our thoughts, feelings and body through the lens of various Attitudinal Qualities which include:

  • Non-judgement
  • Kindness
  • Gentleness
  • Non-striving
  • Acceptance
  • Trust

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Gently redirect. If your mind wanders into planning, daydream, or criticism, notice where it has gone and gently redirect it to sensations in the present.
  • Try and try again. If you miss your intended meditation session, you simply start again.

By practicing accepting your experience during meditation, it becomes easier to accept whatever comes your way during the rest of your day.

Cultivate mindfulness informally or learning to SLOW DOWN

In addition to formal meditation, you can also cultivate mindfulness informally by focusing your attention on your moment-to-moment sensations during everyday activities. This is done by single-tasking — doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. As you floss your teeth, pet the dog, or eat an apple, slow down the process and be fully present as it unfolds and involves all of your senses.

Exercises to try on your own

If mindfulness meditation appeals to you, going to a class or listening to a meditation tape can be a good way to start. In the meantime, here are two mindfulness exercises you can try on your own.

Practicing mindfulness meditation

This exercise teaches basic mindfulness meditation.

  1. Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
  2. Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
  3. Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and your ideas.
  4. Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.

Learning to stay in the present

A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. You can choose any task or moment to practice informal mindfulness, whether you are eating, showering, walking, touching a partner, or playing with a child or grandchild. Attending to these points will help:

  • Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body.
  • Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.
  • Now breathe out through your mouth.
  • Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation.
  • Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation.
  • Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.

When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.

Key Points

  • Practicing mindfulness improves both mental and physical health.
  • Mindfulness involves both concentration (a form of meditation) and acceptance.  Deliberately pay attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment.
  • It takes practice to become comfortable with mindfulness techniques. If one method doesn’t work for you, try another.
  • Mindfulness is not just meditation, that is an element, it is about living more mindfully.

Invest in yourself

The effects of mindfulness meditation tend to be dose-related — the more you do, the more effect it usually has. Most people find that it takes at least 20 minutes for the mind to begin to settle, so this is a reasonable way to start. If you’re ready for a more serious commitment, Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends 45 minutes of meditation at least six days a week. But you can get started by practicing the techniques described here for shorter periods.

Learn Mindfulness or Give Yourself the Gift of Stillness

You can of course begin right away learning to notice, bringing an attitude of mindful awareness to your daily experiences. You can read all the books, listen to all the audio available, but the best to learn  is to practice, practice, practice.

Formal mindfulness training has been shown to be the most effective way to learn how to use mindfulness to help with stress, anxiety, depression and to focus yourself onto what is important for you, on what you want to live for.

I am offering 1-1 trainings in Mindfulness, specifically the system that Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered called Mindfulness based Stress Reduction or MBSR. This is typically an 8 part/week programme which gives you all the tools, formal and informal practices, insights, home-tasks to make mindfulness an integral part of your life.

There is a consultation process to assess whether Mindfulness is right for you at this time of your life. Learning mindfulness can be the most rewarding experience and gift you can offer yourself but it can well be an extremely challenging process. You may want to change what doesn’t work for you right now, but it doesn’t mean its going to be a comfortable ride.

So I say again:

You can live a rich and meaningful life

You can live a life free from debilitating stress, anxiety or depression

You can have a life of improved health, fulfilling relationships and meaningful work

You can, by investing a little more time into your life, by slowing down a little, by noticing moment to moment your experiences with gentler attitudes than you might normally use, by being more mindful.

If you are interested in learning mindfulness, please email me using the form above

Special Offer

I am offering a special Early Bird price to learn Mindfulness.

If you book now for the full 8 sessions,( this will normally cost you, for 1-1 training £640), you will pay only £500.

Sessions are on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Chelsea Natural Health Clinic.

If you are interested in learning mindfulness, please email me using the form above

To take advantage of this Early Bird offer of £500 for the MBSR training, respond NOW and email me.

Many thanks and begin noticing….everything….

Simon Heale

Mindfulness Coach and Trainer

Parts of this article have been taken and adapted from Positive Psychology: Harnessing the Power of Happiness, Personal Strength, and Mindfulness, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.

Other useful resources:

All books by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

‘Full Catastrophe Living’

‘Wherever you go, There you are’

‘Coming to our Senses’

Jon Kabat-Zinn: watch him on this You Tube clip:

The Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu


Simon Heale

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