Sunday, 22 February 2015

7 FAQ's about Mindfulness

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I often get questions from my students, or emails from people who go on my website, asking me about mindfulness and how it benefits them. These are the kind of questions I get asked most frequently. 

If you have any questions that are not here, why not ask in the comments section below? I'll do my best to answer you, or to refer you to somewhere or someone that has the answer.

1. How does meditating improve my life?

Whenever we learn a new skill, we need to practice it. And even when we already have a skill, we need to practice it so to improve it and not lose it. The same is true of mindfulness.

Whenever we practice sitting quietly and paying attention to our breathing, or sounds, we develop the skill of focus, of noticing everything around us, of remaining in the present moment rather than continually living in the future or the past. Then we can bring that skill to our everyday activities.

This is beneficial in that it improves concentration and focus and reduces stress.

2. How is paying attention to drinking my tea or coffee better than using the time to check my emails and plan my day?

Paying attention to one thing while doing something else is a habit we’ve all grown used to. But it means that we are continually either thinking about the future or the past instead of being really aware of what’s going on right now.

But if we can train ourselves to pay attention to the current experience, we began to develop the ability to really see the present more clearly, and to learn from it, rather than having a vague or filtered view of what’s going on. Sometimes we don’t want to look at what’s going on too closely because we are afraid we might see something we don’t like. But if we can stay with the experience as it unfolds, we’re more likely to leave our preconceived ideas and prejudices behind.

So, when you are then planning your day, you are not only doing so with your full focus and concentration, you are also doing so with clearer vision and understanding.

3. I found that the meditation was hard: My mind just kept drifting away. What am I doing wrong?

Great! The good news is that the moment you noticed that your mind had drifted away, you were being mindful.
Just gently bring your mind back to the meditation. You will probably have to do this several times during the meditation.
Some days we have to do this every 5 seconds or less. Other days, our mind will be quieter and we may only have to redirect our attention every minute or so. With practice, we get better and better, but we all will still have days when our attention has the staying power of a two-year-old child.
The most important thing is to stay calm and relaxed about it, and regard the thoughts as part of the meditation, rather than interference.

4. How long will it take before I notice mindfulness making a difference in my life?

Not surprisingly, there is a good deal of variability in how this practice impacts people's lives and when they start to see those changes occur.
That said, it's fairly common for people to report within a couple of weeks of dedicated practice that they were able to meet a situation with a new sense of having choice in how they respond. These are the early signs of developing a degree of freedom from our automatic and habitual tendencies.
Something else to consider: Co-workers, family and friends sometimes notice these changes before we ourselves are clearly aware of them.
5. Is it a good idea to listen to music while I’m meditating?

Music can be helpful in keeping you attentive or it can be a distraction. Sometimes we want the music to entertain us because we’re finding it difficult to stay in the moment.

Really, the aim of mindfulness meditation is to stay in the moment, to be aware of what is happening now within our mind and body and music can be a distraction from that.

I would recommend that you try meditating for short periods (5-10 mins) with music at first, and then lengthen the time as you become more comfortable with it. After that, try meditating without the music, and compare how you get on with and without it.

6. I get fidgety when I sit still for any length of time. What should I do?

We are in a habit of shifting and moving to the body’s demands without even being aware of it.

By bringing mindfulness to this habit, we can learn to quiet the body as well as the mind. So whenever you feel the urge to move, acknowledge that urge but without moving. If it helps, say to yourself (silently) “I want to move”, then go back to the meditation. If the urge returns immediately or you feel you just cannot stay still, then make the decision, mindfully, to move.

With practice, you will be able to acknowledge these urges without having to move. But it’s important not to try and ignore the urge, or push it away. Be aware of them and mindfully decide whether to give to them, or not.

7. I’m enjoying the mindfulness meditation, but I still find it difficult to be mindful in my interaction with others. Will this come with time?

As we practice being mindful in everyday situations it does become easier.  So it’s best to begin with situations that do not involve interacting with others.

Try being mindful while walking, on public transport or waiting in line, for example. Just be aware of your surroundings by using your senses: Look at everything you can around you, listen to all the sounds you can hear, be aware of your body; whether it’s warm or cold, comfortable or uncomfortable. Be aware of your thoughts or any emotions you might be feeling.

As you grow more accustomed to doing this, begin to incorporate mindfulness into your interaction with others: Wait for others to finish their sentence before deciding you already know what they are going to say, listen to what they are saying and take a moment before you speak rather than rushing in. Ask questions and wait for people to answer before making up your mind about their motives.

These things become easier the more we practice them. And remember, have patience with yourself. You won’t always get it right, but you will get it right more often.

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