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Mind Your Mind
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Mind Your Mind

Being in the present and focusing your mind is more than mumbo jumbo - it has proven health benefits.

Mindfulness has become a buzzword in the world of health and wellness. This is not surprising in this busy, always-on-never-off world of ours.

Testament to the popularity of this trend, the benefits of mindfulness are being championed by role models such as Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow - who insist the practice is great for combating stress. And in our smartphone-reliant world, mindfulness is omnipresent, taught via therapeutic apps such as Headspace and Calm.

Although rooted in Buddhism, the practice of mindfulness goes beyond the mystical and can help one focus on the present.

What is mindfulness?

Many medical professionals often refer to Jon Kabat-Zinn as the father of the mindfulness movement. The founder of the Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction programme, he defines mindfulness as “paying attention to the present moment, intentionally and non-judgementally”.

Many mindfulness practices involve making a conscious choice to pay attention to what goes on moment by moment in our minds and bodies, and practising to look at our experiences as they are, without judging them or wanting them to be any different.

Eric Lim, Mindfulness Psychologist at Brahm Centre, shares that mindfulness trains the mind to purposefully pay attention to the present moment, such that you notice the experience just as it is and bring awareness into your life through physical sensations, thoughts, emotions and the surrounding environment.

“Mindfulness involves being present by engaging our five senses - sight, smell, sound, touch and taste - in the moment, which strengthens the two qualities of wisdom and compassion. When we develop these qualities within ourselves, we cultivate these qualities within our relationships,” adds Dr Natalie Games, Clinical Psychologist at Alliance Counselling.

Michael Sutton, a yoga teacher at Pure Yoga Singapore, advises us to think of dualities. “Just as there is yin and yang, hot and cold, there is mindfulness and the mindlessness of a walking zombie,” he says. “It stems from a lack of focusand information overload on our senses.”

He further relates mindfulness to a focused mind that can balance action and awareness of the environment. “Imagine a pot of boiling water; you are aware that it is hot and choose to move it carefully. Being mindful means using gloves to prevent yourself from being scalded while you do so,” he adds.

Benefits of mindfulness

A 2016 study by Brown University showed that people who practise mindfulness had healthier glucose levels, suggesting that improved focus and self-control could help fight obesity and unhealthy eating habits. Mindfulness was also linked to better sleep among the elderly, as well as to improved focus, reduced dependency on opioids, and lowered anxiety and depression levels.

Saras Atre, Counsellor at Raffles Counselling Centre, says that practising mindfulness has a significant impact on our health and well-being as it improves overall quality of life by reducing stress, anxiety and depression. She says mindfulness also increases awareness of the self and the world around us, giving us a greater sense of reality and confidence.

It can increase compassion, empathy and emotional intelligence, thus boosting our relationships. It is especially beneficial for students and athletes as it can increase the ability to focus. Mindfulness reduces our emotional reactions and allows us to consciously respond to situations. “It can even reduce physical pain, by altering the way our brains process pain, and improve our immune systems,” Atre adds.

Success stories

Atre shares that her clients who suffer from anxiety have been able to find more inner stability and calmness when they practise mindfulness. It improved relationships for couples by helping them communicate with more empathy and respect for each other; they also listen with compassion rather than being in a reactive and defensive state.

Lim’s patients have reported lower blood pressure, better ability to cope with situations, and improved quality of sleep. “When we turn towards our body and mind with kindness and awareness, we begin to relate to our aches and pains in a different way,” he reveals.

Individuals who practise mindfulness report noticing changes in themselves over time that they cannot quantify. Some practitioners relate how surprised they are to realise that they have become less easily affected by events and other people, and more aware of themselves and changes in their perspectives. They no longer need to act on their feelings or thoughts, and are able to break out of old habits. They have also become kinder and more caring towards themselves and the people around them.

ACHIEVING MINDFULNESS VIA STOP

Dr Natalie Games, Clinical Psychologist at Alliance Professional Counselling, shares the following steps:

Stop what you are doing; pause your thoughts and emotions
Take a few breaths to centre yourself; return to the present moment
Observe your

  • Body Notice your physical senses (touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing)
  • Emotions What are you feeling right now?
  • Mind What connections are you making about your feelings to past experiences and assumptions? What is the story you are telling yourself about why you are having these feelings? What are your intentions?

Plan what to do next and proceed to manage the situation with this new sense of mindful awareness

Techniques to stay in the moment

For mindfulness beginners, Games advises, “Embarking on the journey of being more mindful can be confronting. However, as with all new ventures, for habits or activities that take us out of our comfort zone, start out with baby steps. Take 10 minutes each day to remain mindful when cleaning your teeth, drinking tea, taking a shower, or focusing on your breath before sleep. There’s quite a lot of power in the simple act of focusing your mind.”

Sutton advises those embarking on the practice to envision the mind as a cup that can be filled with balanced awareness of positive qualities (love, respect, compassion, empathy, serenity, etc) and negative qualities (hate, anger, anxiety, jealousy, etc). While it is easy to reciprocate anger and frustration with negativity, he beseeches us to take control our “car” and keep calm. “When you drive, you keep your hands on the steering wheel; you lose control when you let go. Be focused with your car (your physical body) and try not to sound the horn (your ego). Take control of your steering wheel (your mind) so you may see your unconvoluted driver clearly (your true self).”

“We can begin with awareness of our daily routine, such as noticing the physical sensations of the feet - coldness or warmth - as they touch the floor when you get out of bed,” says Lim. “It’s about bringing full attention to what we are doing instead of being on autopilot.”

Atre agrees that mindfulness can be practised informally by bringing our mindful awareness to daily activities, such as eating, exercising, doing our daily chores, and learning to be present in the moment. It can also be done more formally by taking the time to intentionally sit, stand, walk or lie down, and focus on the breath, bodily sensations, sounds and other senses, or thoughts and emotions. She adds, “Start practising for just five minutes daily and you may still reap the benefits.”

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