What are mindfulness and meditation? Can they be helpful?

If you read my column regularly you will know that my aim is to help stop the stigma that surrounds issues of mental health and well-being. I prefer to talk about mental wellness rather than mental illness.

What we think about, and how we think about things, very much control how we feel.

If we are constantly thinking, or overthinking, things which are unpleasant or stressful, then we can become overwhelmed, this can soon spiral into something more serious.

Life isn’t that simple though, is it? We all have things we need to deal with, things that need to be done, and things which require our attention.

There are times, I am sure, when most people feel like they just want to ‘clear their head’.

One way to do this is to practice meditation. It is a technique or practice that is much misunderstood, many people may instantly dismiss it as being something a bit ‘Woo-Woo’ or just plain weird.

So, I thought I would explain it to you in a straightforward way.

Whilst the origins of meditation and mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation and can be practised through techniques such as yoga or tai chi; you can practise an effective and simplified version of it yourself, virtually anytime, anywhere.

A simple way to learn meditation is by sitting in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and focusing on your breath.

When your mind wanders, as it inevitably will, gently redirect your attention back to your breath, so that you just concentrate on your breathing.

Now, notice the sounds that you hear around you and get yourself ‘in the moment’ of what you are doing.

Every time an unwanted thought comes into your mind, simply acknowledge it, and turn your concentration back to your breathing and the sounds around you.

It can be helpful to set a timer for this practice, starting with just a few minutes and gradually increasing the time as you become more comfortable with the technique.

Quite simply, mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing our awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting our feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, which your mind and body will have learnt through meditation.

There are many benefits to practising both. They have been shown to reduce stress, improve concentration, and increase feelings of well-being. It can even help with managing chronic pain and improving sleep.

You may be tempted to say you simply don’t have time. However, if you have wasted 10 minutes worrying about something, you have 10 minutes that you could put to far better use.

What do you have to lose? Give it a try!