How to practise mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness has the capacity to enrich and transform your life. But how do you actually do it?

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What is mindfulness? How can it be useful to me? 

Long practised by Buddhists, and the bedrock of Eastern psychology, mindfulness is now growing in the West. Perhaps you’ve seen books on the theme, or read about it in the papers. It’s both challenging and exciting those who desire psychological or spiritual change in their lives; or seek to promote it in the lives of others.

Advocates believe this practice can help alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety.

But it is not just a medicine for hard times. More profoundly, it’s a way of living for all, enriching every moment of our lives, whether at work, on holiday or in the shower.

It was Hafiz, the Sufi poet who said: “If you would help me, do not shine a torch on my life – but place in my hands a candle.” So let us see if we can find a candle for ourselves.

Stop thinking

Surprisingly, mindfulness encourages us to stop taking our thoughts seriously. It invites us to stop wandering off into the past or the future.

Instead, we stop thinking and focus on our breathing. We’re quiet, present and watch our thoughts as they arise. Soon, we become aware of the mad restlessness and capricious nature of our minds; and, in time, we begin to take our thoughts less seriously.

This is liberating, as we have been their unquestioning slave for too long. Our thoughts do not always offer us the ‘reality’ we imagine.

Become an explorer

Mindfulness makes explorers of us, and like all explorers we will have to be brave if we wish to discover new lands.

Mindfulness asks a hard question of us: are you willing to experience openly what makes you unhappy?

We tend to shy away from this because the thought of it scares us. And, of course, this is why we became unhappy in the first place, because we were scared. But if we are willing to face things, we will discover a fresh knowing; virgin territory, which restores happiness. If we are not willing to face things, then, sadly, we continue to walk the same mental circles we have always walked. There is a great courage in mindfulness.

Seize the moment

Mindfulness is concerned with the present; with keeping your consciousness alive to the present moment.

This may appear a simple task, but is harder than it sounds. Most of the time, our minds are either taking us back into the past or into the imaginary future. To help us to engage with the present moment, breath work is a great help; this is so because unlike our mind, our breathing is always in the present. So becoming aware of your breathing is a wonderful start to becoming present.

Notice what is now

We are also helped into the present by noticing things. If we’re turning a key in a lock, we notice we are turning a key in a lock; if we’re walking down the street, we notice the shifting cloud formations or the negative feelings arising in us towards a car driver.

It’s about noticing what’s happening now. When we make a cup of tea or do the washing-up without thinking of what we are going to do next, then we are mindful. We are happier when we notice the present and let the future take care of itself.

Protect the space

Add a tablespoon of salt to a glass of water and it makes a significant difference. Add the same spoon of salt to a jug of water and it makes some difference to the taste. Add it to a lake, however, and it hardly affects anything.

Mindfulness makes us larger containers. This happens as we remove from ourselves all the clutter of past and future concerns.

In the present, we have endless inner space, which is a great step towards happiness.

Difficult emotions, like salt, may remain, but their power to affect us is diffused. Previously they could ruin our day, but now they can barely ruin five minutes.

Judge by results

Our judgments of others arise in direct proportion to our self-judgment. But as we allow ourselves to notice self-judgment, we also allow ourselves to be free of it.

People at peace are those who both see and accept the truth of who they are, rather than avoiding it and blaming someone else. Such people are less likely to find fault with others, which diminishes us and them and is always a waste of our time.

Question the negative

We are shaped by what we do with our negative experiences. Depression, for instance, is a turning away from experience in order to avoid emotional pain. Mindfulness doesn’t stop negative thoughts or feelings, but does help us to question their believability. Are these negative feelings quite as solid as they appear? Life is all in the perception; how we perceive events.

Mindfulness practice creates in us a sense of water flowing, things passing through, rather than hard blocks of ice inside us, solid and immovable.

It’s your work

No one can eat lunch for you, and no one can be mindful for you. It’s your work, and your wonder.

Give up your opinions

You cannot be mindful while holding on to your opinions. That’s like trying to keep dry by jumping into the sea.

Don’t censor yourself — accept yourself

As you get in touch with your breathing, thoughts will arise in you, unbidden. Don’t censor them, whatever their nature, but rather allow them all.

In accepting them, you accept yourself. If you censor emotions as they appear, they will bury themselves even deeper within you and you’ll never discover anything you didn’t know already.

If you allow everything, it may well be that you meet what is making you unhappy, but this is good.

How can you say ‘goodbye’ to it until you’ve said ‘hello’?

Rachel x

Meditations for Vatas: 4 Healing Techniques for the Wandering Mind

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Some people naturally have trouble concentrating, but Vatas especially tend to have a difficult time , I know this for a fact as it’s my primary Dosha!

Vatas have a predominance of air and space, they usually have more trouble grounding themselves than other doshas. Vatas are known to be creative, communicative, changeable, quick, and spontaneous, none of which is particularly helpful when it comes to centering.

In truth, meditation is beneficial even when you don’t think it is. The effort itself is a worthy pursuit, and eventually it does get easier. By witnessing your inner world and bringing your awareness to your thoughts, no matter how random or continuous, you are expanding your consciousness.

Even though you don’t feel completely at one with the universe from a 10-minute meditation session, doesn’t mean it’s not working. A lot of the time what you must deal with most when developing a regular practice are your own personal levels of mental overload. For those with a predominance of Vata, this can be even harder to overcome.

Here are some meditation tools that can help the busy-brained Vata.

Meditative Music or Sounds

There is an array of meditative music and nature sounds that can be found on the web these days. Often used as a sleep aid, these sounds can help calm the Vata mind. Specifically nature sounds are effective in helping you find your centre. If you’re someone who has a hard time sitting still, try filling the silence with beautiful relaxing sounds. Several different sounds can be used to aid in meditation such as chimes, chants, instrumentals, and nature. Explore these options and find one that works best for you. Any sound that puts you in a relaxed mood is good.

Colouring

Yes, you read that right, colouring! Just as this activity may have calmed you as a child, it can still help you as an adult. Colouring is especially helpful when you pair it with some of my other suggestions. For example, you could colour whilst listening to a nature soundtrack. You can colour any pictures that you want, but I recommend choosing images that incit calm and peace. Also the more detailed the picture the better. This allows your mind to get lost in what you’re doing.

Spend Silent Time in Nature

In general, you should spend as much time in nature as possible. So many benefits come from making a regular practice of being out in the natural world. When it comes to meditation, there’s really no better place. Even if you struggle with closing your eyes and stilling your thoughts with a mantra, you can use some quiet time in nature to help bring yourself to a place of peace.

Find a favorite spot, maybe near water or in an open field, or even in dense forest. If you sit still and observe, you may not need to close your eyes at all. Just be silent and experience your surroundings. This has a very calming therapeutic effect on the mind and spirit. Appreciating the beauty of creation is in effect its own form of meditation. For those whose minds typically run wild, being IN the wild as a silent observer can counteract this tendency.

Chanting

Chanting has been used since ancient times as a means of tuning into our higher selves. For some, the overactive Vata mind that keeps one from reaching their inner stillness can be quieted with sound. Similar to how you use a mantra in silence, you can chant a mantra out loud. By repeating the chant numerous times, you will eventually zone out. The repetition, much like routine within your lifestyle, can be very effective in balancing Vata. Once you become aware that you’re zoning out, that’s a good time to stop and sit in silence, allowing your mind to be in the calm.

Explore a variety of chants to find the best ones for you. Some people choose Sanskrit terms, while others use affirmations, or simply words that they wish to encourage in their consciousness. Whatever your choice, keep it light; there’s no need to place too much thought into it. Remember the chant is not the focus, so much as the place of stillness that you’re trying to reach.

With enough practice and experimentation, you too can become a powerful meditator and bring balance to your life. Don’t fight your Vata tendencies, instead use them to your advantage. Meditation is an act of letting go. Try these techniques to keep yourself from engaging with those wandering thoughts and you might just be amazed at the ease you will begin to find your centre and inner stillness.

Rachel x