From breathing techniques to restful yoga and calming meditation, practising mindfulness everyday can help restore a sense of calm in the hustle and bustle of daily life, writes Vanessa Williams.
When it comes to finding a sense of calm in a world full of chaos, we could all do with a little assistance.
Enter mindfulness meditation – a peaceful state of being that helps to redirect a mind full of overwhelming thoughts to focusing on what’s happening in the present.
Ashtanga yoga teacher Dr Jean Byrne, the founder of the Yoga Space studio in West Perth, has been teaching and practising mindfulness meditation for many years.
“Mindfulness meditation is purely about the practise of working with our attention and our awareness to allow us to come back to what’s happening here and now,” Dr Byrne says.
“A common misconception about meditation, or mindfulness in general, is that it’s about stopping thinking. A lot of people struggle with meditation practise because they think they need to stop their thoughts. However, when we are practising mindfulness meditation, what we are actually doing is noticing the mind wandering, then we are bringing it back to an object of attention, so the breath, or sensation.
“So it’s the practise of perpetual return that over time means that our thoughts do calm down. When we practise mindfulness meditation in the same way we need to train our muscles to do a push up, we are training our minds to come back to what’s happening in this moment.”
Having been involved in mindfulness-based research, Dr Byrne is familiar with the health benefits it can bring if practised regularly.
“There’s a lot of research emerging about the benefits of mindfulness meditation,” explains Dr Byrne. “It can help with sleep, sometimes skin conditions like psoriasis, chronic pain, anxiety, and certainly there have been studies into mindfulness as cognitive therapy and it shows through randomised control trials that to prevent relapse, dedicated mindfulness practise is as powerful as medication.”
The benefits of mindfulness practises have been so promising that it is now being used as a complementary therapy for depression, anxiety and other health ailments.
“So mindfulness is an empowering practise – it helps people take control of their inner world in a very effective way,” Dr Byrne says. “But the thing to remember is that, mindfulness practise is not an alternative therapy, it’s a complementary therapy.
“So you can still get the best medical care you can, but mindfulness can help you be present, not catastrophise, and manage your health condition better and generally just help you enjoy life a lot more.
“So for people who worry and think the worst, for example, this could be important for parents of children who have diabetes, it helps you learn to be in the moment and to return the mind to what is happening here and now.
“Otherwise, we are just overrun with worry and fear and even in the moments where there’s no pressing danger, we find it hard to relax and enjoy the life that we do have.”
Mindfulness practises can vary from simple breathing exercises to restful and restorative yoga.
“Certainly there’s research coming out about yoga and working with the mind, particularly in the non-religious yoga class,” Dr Byrne says. “What’s powerful is that you’re working with the mind and body together so mindful movement is a wonderful mind medicine for all of us.
If you’re interested in the mindfulness meditation practise and don’t know where to start, Dr Byrne suggests adopting some simple breathing exercises as a starting point.
“Anyone can start very simply, particularly if you don’t have any underlying anxiety disorder or depression, but you’re feeling overwhelmed by your diabetes diagnosis, by simply paying attention to your breath,” she says.
“So when you inhale, you count to one, and when you exhale you count to two, and you do that up to ten then you start all over again.
“It’s normal that the mind will wander midway, but you just start again at one. So it can be very very simple.”
She recommends incorporating these breathing techniques daily in the morning when you wake up, and in the evening before you go to bed.
“Anyone who wants to use mindfulness as a tool to (improve mental wellbeing), it’s important to understand that it’s not a quick fix, and it must go together with conventional therapy whether it’s psychology, or seeing a different medical practitioner,” she says.
“So, like medicine, it works on dosage. So aiming for small (doses) on a regular basis at first is really important.”
Keen to give Mindfulness Meditation a go? Head to Yoga Space for more information.