Mental health and … mindfulness & meditation
Attitudes towards mindfulness and meditation have been quite transformed in recent years. It’s not all that long ago that many people might have dismissed the idea out of hand as ‘hippyish’ or some kind of spiritual mumbo jumbo.
People were quite happy to accept that their bodies couldn’t function at their best without physical exercise and training - but it’s taken years for the majority to come around to the idea that minds and our mental health benefit from regular limbering up too.
In fact the practice of meditation has been around for several thousands of years, in the Indian sub-continent and China in particular, and an intrinsic part of some religious beliefs which long linked it to happiness and health.
Now mindfulness and meditative techniques have been widely recognised by mainstream Western medicine as having benefits on both our mental and physical health and an acknowledged way of helping us deal with the stresses of the fast-paced and often demanding society we live in.
Studies have even shown that mindfulness can help the perception of pain in patients living with long-term health conditions, contributing to much improved quality of life, and has been linked to improved mental focus and decision making.
In the field of mental health, meditation and mindfulness is endorsed by many counsellors and psychotherapists as reducing the effects of stress and anxiety.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked LionHeart mental health ambassador Subjit Jassy - one of the trainers who delivers our Mindfulness and Meditation workshops and webinars - to explain a bit more about the practices and how they can be of benefit.
So, what is mindfulness and meditation, and what’s the difference?
Mindfulness - put simply, this is being aware. Aware of the present moment, aware of how your body feels and even aware of your emotions and feelings. Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it, but the fact is that most of us have got out of the habit. There’s a great quote by the author Sharon Salzberg where she says, “Mindfulness is not difficult, you just have to remember to do it.”
Meditation is a technique to train your mind to achieve a mentally clear and stable state. It can be quite daunting for people as they have been so used to the emotional part of their mind being in the driving seat. That means it can be quite hard to switch off because of the constant stream of thoughts that arise.
My own involvement in mindfulness and meditation has been almost lifelong. I’ve had an interest in it from childhood, principally due to my cultural background being part of a Sikh family. I’ve tried various methods over the years and it all became easier for me when I started yoga (I didn’t go to yoga for meditation though, I went to yoga because I thought my hamstrings and lower back were tense from being desk bound and I needed a proper stretch!)
For me, there have been lots of benefits. I think I am generally calmer and less stressed. I think I have a little more perspective with regular challenges in life. I now use it to reset my day too. It helps with getting to sleep, although I have not had to try that personally. I’ve also been able to help more people with something that I would have kept quite private previously - in the talks and presentations I give as part of my role with LionHeart I explain that, quite simply, mindfulness and meditation lead to “a happier you”.
There are many methods people can use to help with better mental health, from therapies like counselling and CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) to taking physical exercise like running. Mindfulness with meditation are two of those methods. Through daily practice for even just 5-10 minutes a day, we can help reset our minds and achieve a more peaceful state.
Using mindfulness to become more aware of our emotions can help us to spot the triggers that create stress and anxiety. Over time, you can learn to catch those triggers and close them before the flight or fight response has been triggered, which leads people to experience symptoms of anxiety or panic.
There are so many ways to build simple mindfulness practices into your life. You can sign up for one of the LionHeart sessions, and try some guided meditations from the various apps out there (Breathe, Calm, Headspace etc)
An even more simple way to start is to consciously take a moment to appreciate some of the smaller things in life. That could be enjoying a nice coffee or cup of tea, noticing the sounds and smells on your daily walk, being fully engaged when talking to friends or partner (so no mobile phones or other distractions) and the people around you.
Having some gratitude too for the good things, however small they may be, helps tip the balance in favour of your happiness instead of dwelling on the negatives. You can do that by thinking or noting down 2-3 small things that you are grateful for at the start or the end of every day.
Find out more:
- Book onto one of our forthcoming Mindfulness and Meditation webinars. Click here to check dates and book.