I’ve heard of mindfulness and have been curious about it for a long time, but I’ve never practised it. Like many people, I’ve dabbled in meditation, seeking some kind of peace and relaxation from the stress of everyday life. I heard that mindfulness was different. That it could teach you how to take a step back from your life and gain perspective. That it was less about relaxation and more about learning to be in control of how you respond to the busy world around you.
With that in mind, I set myself a challenge to practice mindfulness for three days in a row. And like any good girlfriend, I dragged my boyfriend in for support! He’s curious about mindfulness meditation but also has never actually practised it.
And so, hold onto your seats for our experimental three days of daily mindfulness practice.
What is mindfulness meditation?
We usually think of meditation as something which brings us relaxation and a sense of peace. Mindfulness meditation can bring these feelings after a while, but the most significant outcome is to make you hyper-aware. Mindfulness encourages you to live in the present moment. It’s a way to pay attention to the things that happen in your life and your reactions, without judgement. The more aware we are of our thought patterns, sensations and responses, the more we can control the way we choose to respond.
That’s the theory. Let’s see how it works in practice!
We set up the lounge of our one bed flat with relaxing candles, low light, a nice smell and soft music. We find a guide online. It tells us to spend twenty minutes focusing on the sensation of the breath coming in and out of the nostrils.
Sitting on our cushions side-by-side, eyes closed, our breath loud. I find my mind drifting, distracted by the slightest sound; my boyfriend’s breath, the cars outside, the hum of the fridge. I’m thinking about what we need to cook for dinner, the colleague who annoyed me, the fact I haven’t phoned my mum in a while. When the alarm goes off after twenty minutes I’m pleasantly surprised. I managed to focus for at least a few minutes! My boyfriend is sitting there reading. Big fail! Maybe twenty minutes to start was a bit too ambitious?
We meditate in the morning this time, to see if it makes a difference to how busy our thoughts are. I set the alarm for fifteen minutes and focus on my chest moving up and down with each breath. Eyes closed, sitting cross-legged on cushions, fresh coffee in our system. Go!
I find myself able to focus quicker this time. My mind’s still active, wandering into memories and things on my to-do lists, thinking about how I should wear my hair. I notice it drifting from huge issues to mindless minuscule details. But, I am focusing more than yesterday. It is hard work but I keep reminding myself to focus on my breath each time I get distracted. The alarm goes off, and I’m proud for sitting still for that long. But I can’t say I feel any different. My boyfriend is still sceptical. He tells me he found my breath annoying and couldn’t focus on anything but that.
We throw the cushions to the side and sit how we feel comfortable. I lean against the wall with my legs outstretched and my boyfriend lays on the sofa. We try for twenty minutes mindfulness meditation again. I focus on the breath through my nostrils, down my lungs and my diaphragm moving in and out.
We’re silent for the entire time. Today’s result feels pretty much the same as yesterday to me. I manage to focus some of the time and find myself distracted most of the time. My boyfriend has a slightly better response, he says he managed to focus a little. But both of us agree that we don’t really feel different immediately after the meditation. Our minds are still busy and we don’t feel relaxed. I am hyper-aware of my breath though!
What’s interesting to me is the difference I feel today when I don’t meditate. I feel a strong absence in my mind, it feels scattered and busy. I’m much more aware of the messiness of my thoughts. I can observe my brain switching from one topic to another mid-sentence. I find myself craving a few minutes of peace. I want to sit and focus on my breath and give my thinking brain a rest.
For me, mindfulness is one of those healthy activities that you feel the benefits of more significantly when you stop. It’s similar to healthy eating or getting into a good running routine. You might not notice such a huge change in yourself during the activity but as soon as you stop your body misses it. Mindfulness makes you hyper-aware to how you react to external stimulus and thoughts. But it doesn’t give you an overwhelming feeling of relaxation. I’m not sure what I was expecting.
This is how I feel after meditating for only three days. I’m more sensitive and aware of how my body responds to stimuli and how mindfulness helps. I can hear my mind getting busier with thoughts after I pop on social media for twenty minutes. I can hear myself thinking negative thoughts after a conversation with my parents or friends. It feels as though I’m catching myself out more. I can hear the negative thoughts that are usually drowned out by all the other mindless chatter in my head. Awareness is a subtle sensation which makes a huge difference to how in control I am of my emotional responses.
If mindfulness practice can have this effect on me after three days, I wonder how much of my life would change if I practised regularly. Perhaps, I’d have more positive thought patterns and be in control of my reactions when faced with something negative. With awareness comes control over thoughts and reactions. Mindfulness meditation is certainly something I want to bring into my weekly routine. Wish me luck!