What is mindfulness and why is it important?
Updated: May 29, 2021
Mindfulness is the ability to do one thing at a time, in the present moment, with full attention and acceptance. When we act from a position of mindfulness our actions are conscientious and intentional resulting in a mindset that is open to multiple possibilities without judgement of ourselves, others, or the situation.
Psychological research shows that the ability to be fully present through mindful awareness improves our resilience to face the challenges of our daily lives which in turn has a significant impact on our well-being. Mindful practices have been shown to have a calming influence on the brain
Although our brain is not a muscle, it does benefit from being exercised, just like our body does, and Through exercising our brain by learning mindfulness skills that can be learned and applied to help us cope with painful thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness is a fancy term for calming and taking control of your mind. Mindfulness helps to quieten the mind, lower the intensity of feelings by bring us into the present moment.
How can mindfulness be helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 is part of the coronavirus family that causes respiratory illness in humans, and this particular virus is new to the world.
COVID-19 has brought with it an enormous amount of uncertainty – uncertainty in how it will show up in our communities, uncertainty of how it might or is affecting us or our loved ones, uncertainty regarding how we are going to go about achieving personal, work or learning goals, uncertainty regarding earning a living – will our businesses survive, do we still have a job? Additionally, the government enforced social isolation and lockdown has significantly restricted our personal freedoms. When our needs for control, certainty, stability and security are not met then it is only natural that we experience increased uncomfortable feelings such as fear, confusion, anger, hurt, anxiety, sadness, grief. Yes, grief is something I believe we are all experiencing at some level; as we mourn the life we have lost and possibly even the people we have lost.
What we are going through is a hugely stressful experience, a crisis. During times of crisis our thoughts can run away with us and focus on the catastrophic or worst case scenario giving rise to intensely painful feelings like fear and anxiety which may become immobilising or result is in actions which could be hurtful to self or others. Even though it doesn’t feel like it at times, we are not our thoughts or mind, and all our feelings are valid as they serve us.
When we relive the negative things of the past or we worry about the future, by catastrophizing or what-iffing, we easily begin to experience painful emotions, such as depression (when we focus on the past) or anxiety (when we focus on the future). Essentially when we are doing this we are not accepting reality and are focussing on things that are not in our control. When we don’t accept reality as it is, then we create emotional pain for ourselves.
By living in the present moment we are able to identify what is in our control. The present moment also has painful experiences; suffering is a part of life. However, if we live in the present moment we only have to deal with pain of the present rather than the pain of the present, the past and the future simultaneously. The past is gone and the future is yet to come, the present moment is the only moment we can do anything about.
According to a leading international expert in the field of mindfulness, Dr. Dan Siegel, “Living fully in the present is an art form that liberates the mind to relieve mental suffering”.
How to learn and practice mindfulness in daily life?
Mindfulness is a skill that gets easier with practice and it does not have to take up a large amount of time.
Here are some easy to follow steps to integrate mindfulness into daily life:
a. Choose an activity – it can be anything that fits for you – some ideas are; making a cup of tea / coffee, eating a meal, driving to the grocery store, walking around the garden, playing with your children or pet
b. Focus on the activity – focus on being in the present moment with whatever activity you have chosen
c. Notice when your attention wanders - it is only natural for your attention to wander, our brain generates millions of thought a day. What is important is to notice when your attention has wandered from the present moment
d. Gently bring your attention back – be gentle with yourself and accept that your attention has wandered. Without judging yourself for wandering and without judging anything about your experience, with a smile and a sense of compassion for yourself bring your attention back to the present moment and focus on the activity.
How does your work at Shumbashaba make use of mindfulness techniques?
At Shumbashaba I facilitate a number of community psychological interventions that incorporate horses and nature into the therapeutic process. Examples of programmes that are offered include; stress management, promoting compassion resilience in healthcare workers, positive parenting programmes, promoting a sense of flourishing, meaning and hope in life in the lives of youth, personal growth and leadership. All of these programmes incorporate mindfulness practices as part of the skills that are taught.
During COVID-19 I have been facilitating online mindfulness practices for the community to access through the @shumbashabacommunitytrust Instagram tv.
How has mindfulness helped me?
Mindfulness practices have helped me to cope with many challenges I have experienced on my journey through life. One example springs to mind is that when I returned to university as a mature student, I noticed that I was much more anxious than usual, and that I was experiencing interrupted sleep. I implemented mindfulness into my daily practices, using the steps I have shared above to be fully present has helped me to be more effective and keep striving towards reaching my potential.
During COVID-19 I am taking time each day to do something mindful every day, be it making a cup of tea, walking in the garden or playing with my young daughter.
My title/role at Shumbashaba?
I am the founder of Shumbashaba Community Trust and work as the consulting psychologist to the programmes.
I have a private practice which is based at the Shumbashaba facility. I am currently offering telepsychological services to the community.