Being on ‘autopilot’, where we go through our routines without actually being present in the moment, can be problematic as it might cause us to engage in behaviours that might not be helpful for the situation, or even make us feel that life is meaningless. Mindfulness can help to increase our awareness of our thoughts and emotions, allowing us to better understand and express ourselves to others. But… What exactly is mindfulness?

SCC Mindfulness Art

Credit: @journey_to_wellness

What is mindfulness?

According to Harvard Health, mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing our attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. In other words, it means being aware of what we are feeling, without allowing ourselves to be controlled by it. Mindfulness is contrasted by mindlessness, which is equivalent to being on ‘autopilot’. An example would be when we sometimes find ourselves having no recollection of how our commute to and from work went because we were too fixated on something that happened at home or at work. 

What are its benefits?

1. Mindfulness improves well-being.

  • Being mindful teaches us to savour the pleasures in life as they occur, allowing us to be fully engaged in the activities.
  • By focusing on the here and now, we are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past and are less preoccupied with concerns of the self!



2. Mindfulness improves physical health.

  • Practicing mindfulness can maintain low levels of stress hours after meditating, contributing to more restful sleep, reduced blood pressure and better discernment. It also reduces chronic pain as meditation reduces the brain’s sensitivity to pain.

3.  Mindfulness improves mental health.

  • Practicing mindfulness allows us to clear our mind and focus on the present day, so it helps in setting the tone for each day.
  • In recent years, many counsellors have even incorporated mindfulness meditation in their treatment of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders.

How to Practice Mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be practiced everywhere and at any time, whether we feel distressed or not. Here are some ways for you to start on your mindfulness journey!


  • Accept your Feelings
    • Anxiety, stress and other negative emotions are normal and healthy reactions when a threat is present.
    • Being aware of these emotions is the first step to better self-regulation. It is okay to feel, but not act completely on it. View your emotions neutrally by switching from a “feeling” mode to a “thinking and acting” mode. 

  • Basic mindfulness meditation – One way to be aware of our emotions is to sit quietly and focus on our natural breathing. Observe your inner thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judging them as good or bad. 
    1. Pay attention. Take time to notice external sensations such as sounds, sights, and touch. The challenge is not to latch onto a particular idea, emotion, or sensation, or to get caught up in thinking about the past or the future. Instead, just observe what comes and goes in your mind.
    2. Gently redirect your thoughts. If your mind wanders into planning, daydreaming, or criticism, gently redirect it to sensations in the present. Observe the thoughts come and go and recognize that your thoughts and emotions are just passing through and they do not define you. This insight can free us from negative thought patterns.
SCC Practicing Mindfulness
  • Surf your Urges – We have constant access to good food and entertainment and sometimes we may feel a strong urge to binge on unhealthy food or shows. However, we can have control over these urges by being aware of them to avoid mindlessly acting on them.
    • Begin by observing your urge without judgement. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters and simply describe the urge or craving without reacting to it. You do not have to push it away or hold on to it. End by replacing the wish for the craving to go away with the knowledge that it will subside.
    • Over time, learning to sit with and ride out our urges without giving in allows us to  gain more control over our urges and emotions.
SCC Mindful Eating example

Does this sight look familiar to you? 

Maybe you have been guilty of using your phone or watching television during meal times. It may entertain you while you eat, but it may not be healthy for you! Why not try paying more attention to what you eat?

  • Mindful eating
    • Mindful eating is about developing awareness of our experiences, physical cues, and feelings about food.
    • Mindful eating helps us distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. It also increases our awareness of food-related triggers, like the sight and smell of food, and guides us to choose better responses to them.
    • We can practice mindful eating by following these four steps:
      1. Eating slowly by chewing thoroughly and not rushing through the meal 
      2. Removing any distractions such as the TV or our phones 
      3. Paying attention to the textures, smells, colours and flavours of the food with our senses
      4. Noticing how full we are feeling as we eat and stopping once we feel full


  • Mindfulness journaling
    • Mindfulness journaling is a great avenue for us to reflect on our thoughts and emotions and write them down. By identifying our emotions and the reason for them, we can then consider what we can do as a response. In this journal, we can also note down the things we are grateful for each day.
    • With more gratitude, we will have more resources to turn to when we face challenges and will be more likely to remain positive.
  • Deep breathing (4-2-6 technique)
    • Deep breathing is an effective and proven method for helping us calm down when we are feeling anxious. In slowing our heart rate, our slow breathing signals to the brain for it to relax. Breathe in deeply for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts, then exhale fully for 6 counts. This helps us to focus and brings our attention back to the present.

References

Harvard Health Publishing. (2013, September 1). The magic of mindfulness. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-magic-of-mindfulness