Mindfulness – where to start?

People often come to the practice of mindfulness in response to the realisation that they may not be engaging fully in the present, or having experienced their emotions as overwhelming and sudden. You may be wondering, where do I start?

Throughout the month of May we’re talking about mindfulness and how it can be a positive tool in eating disorder recovery.

People often come to the practice of mindfulness in response to the realisation that they may not be engaging in the present as fully as they want to. They may feel very disconnected to their feelings, unsure of how they feel or why they are feeling the way that they do.

Perhaps they’ve noticed they’ve developed bad habits or negative coping mechanisms…but had difficulty overcoming them in the absence of understanding why they developed in the first place – what the underlying, motivating factors are.

Others may explore mindfulness because they feel frequently overwhelmed by their emotions. They may feel sudden and prolonged moments of panic or anxiety, or find that their stress response is overactive, awoken by seemingly the smallest of things. Existing in a state of fight, flight, freeze can be exhausting for the mind and body – but mindfulness can help.

How mindfulness helps

“It is awareness that precedes choice.”

Mindfulness provides us with an opportunity to investigate our lived experience, bringing greater awareness to the feelings, sensations and urges that arise within us, and helps cultivate an inner wisdom that provides insight into how we engage in our day-to-day lives.

To truly witness our experience, we need to be able to pause, check in and simply notice. Mindfulness is surprisingly challenging because it directly conflicts with the speed at which we live our modern lives. How we work and connect with one another online enables this disconnection with our inner selves.

So, if you’ve struggled with mindfulness in the past – forgive yourself, and recognise that mindfulness is an opportunity and a doorway to a new way of experiencing the world and our place within it.

Where to start

The beauty of mindfulness is that you can start right now, wherever you are. As it’s an inner experience, you can do it at work and in the presence of other people if needed.

Simply bring your attention into the present moment. One way to do this is through a body scan:

  • Close or lower your eyes
  • Bring awareness to your body, using your breath to anchor you and settle you into this space. As much as possible, allow yourself to sink into your chair, noticing how it feels to make conscious contact with what’s supporting you and keeping you upright
  • As you breathe in, notice how your body expands with each breath. Notice the parts that gently move as your body expands – your chest, shoulders, arms – and notice how your body compresses once more to let the breath out. Feel the edge of your body, your skin, make contact with the fabric of your clothes and the air around you
  • As you breathe and begin to settle into a rhythm here, embark on an investigation. Start either at the top of your head, or the tip of your toes, and slowly track up or down, being curious about what you feel on your way. You may not want to track in a certain direction, and instead prefer to sit and allow your attention to be drawn to certain areas by itself
  • Look out for tension, tightness, pressure, tingling, heat, cold, numbness – any sensation is welcome and informative. Try to not judge what you find – simply notice with compassionate curiosity. Keep in mind that we feel our emotions through the body, and our brain then processes them. Our body holds incredible wisdom
  • It’s inevitable that your attention will be distracted at some (or many!) points. Again, without judgement, bring your attention back to your breath and body
  • At the end of your exploration, take a moment to pause and reflect on what you’ve found

Why is a body scan helpful?

Our emotions are incredibly speedy, so much so that they often appear before we have cognitive awareness of them. This is why it can be hard to know that we’re feeling anxiety or panic until we’re in the midst of it (and feeling anxious or panicked about the fact that we’re feeling anxious and panicked!). It also makes it hard to understand our trigger points – if our emotions are quick to react, it can be hard to separate our emotional experience and what it is that caused them.

Mindfulness provides us with that space to become more aware of our experience. By checking in with our body regularly, we develop a wisdom that allows us to be more aware of our triggers and how we’re experiencing any given moment. It allows us to validate that, “yup, something feels really too much for me right now, so I’m going to step away to ground myself.”

What mindfulness isn’t…

Mindfulness isn’t something to be perfect at. The goal isn’t to be the most mindful person in the world – because mindfulness isn’t about judgement or expectations. It’s about simply being and noticing. If you notice that you do feel the urge to be “really good” at this, again, just clock that as more information for you to mull over and reflect on.

Also, forgive yourself for forgetting about mindfulness in the midst of overwhelm. Simply remember that it’s something you can always return to.

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