Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And research shows that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodelling the physical structure of your brain.
Mindfulness can be defined as ' A heightened awareness of the present moment , free from reactivity and identification with experience.'.
Mindfulness is a tool of investigation of a more objective reality in which we develop sustained attention, non-identification, and a greater degree of equanimity .
So it can help you be much more aware of the moment you're in, and to learn how to negate the impact of ruminative thinking. (Basically, rumination means that you continuously think about the various aspects of situations that are upsetting). This means that practising mindfulness is a particularly beneficial tool for people who are mentally battling the interminable barrage of anxious, self-questioning thoughts, criticisms and judgements of an eating disorder.
1)The first stage is Attention Regulation.
We practice this through concentration on breathing to start to tame our minds and learn non-identification and non-reactivity.
Without attention regulation, we just keep on ruminating. It is almost impossible to control ruminative thinking with a more cognitive, logical approach (CBT for example) because it just emerges spontaneously. What we need is a behavioural method to tame the mind and take control over the focus of your attention; when we're talking about attention control in this context, we're talking about executive functions.
The first step in mindfulness training, sustained attention, is to develop 3 types of executive functions:
To start sustaining your attention, begin by sitting in a comfortable position, you concentrate on the breath entering your body through your nostrils; be as specific as possible, becoming aware of the breath touching the inner wall and outer rim of your nostrils and the area just under the nose of the upper lip, just that small triangular area. Focus your attention and keep it sustained on every breath and during every breath.
While you're doing this, you're not occupying your working memory with thought, so anything that has been more recently used, or frequently fired up is going to arise, and this includes emotions.
When thoughts or feelings arise, (and they will!), you will become aware of them and remember you don't have to think thoughts you did not choose to think; without judging yourself, or feeling cross with your mind for its chattering, just acknowledge the thought, you gently say something like 'thinking' and lead your attention back to that small triangular target area of where the breath is entering the body.
As a result of the brain's amazing ability to reorganise itself, with sufficiently frequent and accurate practice, we produce neuroplasticity, and develop the capacity to practice this in day-to-day life.
Research has shown remarkable results with individuals who have practised this for half an hour, twice a day, for a week.
Include decreased distractibility from irrelevant thoughts and sensory stimuli and increased cognitive flexibility.
2) The Second Stage is Systematic Body Scanning
This helps develop equanimity (emotion regulation).
In this practice, you use the sustained attention learned with experiencing the breath entering the body at the nostrils, to survey the whole body in a way attentive to sensory experiences. So you scan each part of the body, from your toes to your head, or vice versa; you become aware of each area of your body and allow yourself to experience how each part feels, without trying to change anything. Just being with what is there.
In this way we become aware of our physical sensations and learn response prevention, ie, not to react. It does require inhibitory control, which is very important for desensitisation of any sort, to prevent learned responses and to foster acceptance.
Why would scanning the body help us learn to regulate our emotions? think about when you feel angry: how do you know you're feeling it? you would probably express this awareness through sensations-you may feel hot, or a tightness, or a feeling of agitation; the same is true with anxiety, where you may feel constriction, or dizziness, or tingling; or with grief, where you may feel pressure in your chest or heaviness; all emotions are made of sensations and sensations can only be felt in the body, so training can help us to accept these sensations, without getting caught up in the feeling, or in judgements about them. As we move throughout the entire body, then these sensations become more acceptable, all the emotions become more acceptable and we can become less reactive in daily life. So we can move on.
The general aims of body scanning are to develop greater self-awareness, objectivity and acceptance and detachment with each experience.
Four Easy Ways to add extra mindfulness practice into your day:
Begin your day with a gentle yoga sun salutation - Feel rejuvenated by waking up all parts of your body with simple stretching yoga poses. Practising 5-10 minutes of yoga to start your day will help to calm your mind before the rush of the day begins.
Breathe - Take 5 minutes during your day schedule to check in with your breathing. If you are experiencing a difficult situation or a painful moment, recognise that moment and find your steady breath.
Guided meditation - When you can, schedule 10-15 minutes before dinner to engage in a mindful meditation practice. This will allow you to release the stress built up from the day and will help you to engage in mindful eating practices.
Body scan before bed - Take 5 minutes in the evening to get in touch with all parts of your body. Notice areas of tension in your body and release all of the stress from the day’s events. Bring your focus to the present moment and centre your thoughts.
All these practices only take about half an hour to add to your day. Remember…You do not have to be a victim of negative emotion. By practising mindfulness, you can start to take control of your thoughts and ownership of your emotions.