Mindfulness: What. How. And The Difference 5 Minutes a Day Will Make

Mindfulness: What. How. And Why We Should All Find the 5 Minutes a Day

What mindfulness can do is remarkable. Once the domain of Buddhist monks or the ‘alternative’, mindfulness has made its way into modern medicine and modern life, and the world is taking notice.

You don’t need anything special to start and you don’t need a lot of time. Five minutes a day is enough to make a difference. There’s no chanting or knotted poses, unless you want to, then go for it. For those who think it’s all a bit too offbeat, it’s basically sitting, breathing and observing – nothing offbeat about that.

Mindfulness: What Is It?

Mindfulness is the practice of observing thoughts, feelings and sensations with the indifference of an objective bystander.

The need to analyse, change or judge is sidelined which can be easier said than done.  The reality is that our attention very easily drawn away from the present. We often worry about what happened yesterday, what’s happening tomorrow, whether the iron has been left on or what’s for dinner. It’s this tendency to be drawn into the past or the future that lies at the core of so many disorders.

What’s All the Fuss About?

The changes that stem from mindfulness are not just because people relax. Mindfulness has been found to cause measurable physical changes in the body and the brain. Wait. What? Yep. By practicing mindfulness – five minutes a day is enough to make a difference – you can actually change your brain. 

In the first study of its kind, researchers at Harvard have established scientific proof that meditation can change the brain’s gray matter.

After 8 weeks of practicing mindfulness exercises for an an average of 27 minutes per day, MRI scans of participants showed that mindfulness:

  • stimulated a significant increase in the density of gray matter in the hippocampus, important for learning and memory;
  • increased the density of gray matter in other neural structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection;
  • decreased the density of gray matter in the amygdala – the part of the brain associated with anxiety and stress.

According to Harvard, mindfulness also:

  • relieves stress;
  • relieves depression;
  • relieves anxiety;
  • lowers blood pressure;
  • improve chronic pain
  • improve sleep;
  • improves capacity to deal with stress;
  • improves ability to form deeper connections with others.

According to the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness, mindfulness can also help to:

  • improve the quality of life for patients with cancer;
  • improve the experience of various conditions and illnesses such as gastrointestinal disorders, HIV, and fibromyalgia;
  • alleviate asthma; 
  • alleviate hot flashes.

Mindfulness has also been found to boost immune function.

Sounds Brilliant. I’m In. So How Do I Do It?

Anyone can practice mindfulness but it might take a bit of practice. At first you might find it hard to stop your mind from wandering. That’s okay and it’s completely normal. It’s what minds do and they’ve been doing it for a while.

When you give your mind the opportunity to unwind – it’s going to unwind. There will be thoughts. feelings and things you didn’t even know were there. If it gets a bit much, your mind will go for a wander. Just bring it gently back to the moment – observe what you’re feeling and thinking – and don’t judge. Let it be. It’s all part of it and you’ll notice that the more you practice, the more you’ll be able to stay in the moment.

Now for how. Ready? Here we go:

  1. You can practice mindfulness anywhere but if you can, find somewhere quiet and uncluttered.
  2. It’s helpful to establish the duration at the beginning so you don’t get distracted thinking about when you should stop. Use a timer if you can (I use the one on my phone), but set the alarm to be something gentle – nothing too jarring.
  3. In the beginning, try for five or ten minutes. Eventually you can extend this to longer – 20 minutes perhaps eventually right up to an hour.  If you can, try for once in the morning and once again at night. If you’re busy, don’t worry, anything you can do will make a difference so don’t get too weighed down about how much time you ‘should’ be taking. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do something.
  4. How you position yourself is up to you. The main thing is that you are supported, balanced and comfortable – but not too comfortable – you don’t want to fall asleep. Try sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor, kneeling, or sitting with loosely crossed your legs – up to you.
  5. Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. Notice the sensation of the air and follow it as it goes in and out of your body. When your mind strays, come back to this point. Observe your thoughts, feelings or sensations. Just notice. You don’t have to do anything with it. Undoubtedly your mind will wander to something other than the present moment – what’s for dinner, the deadline, or maybe the conversation from yesterday. When that happens, gently come back to your breathing. Don’t judge, analyse or try to change anything. Just come back to the moment.

With mindfulness, the more you practice the easier it will get. It’s a bit like cleaning out a wardrobe. It might get messier before you get to the calm. There’ll be things unwinding that you knew about and bits and pieces you didn’t know were there. That’s the way it’s meant to happen. Just notice them and let them go. Then come back. And enjoy. 

44 Comments

Sarah

Thank you for this article! I am a 19 year old girl with issues that can be traced back to my father. I moved out at 18, fresh out of high school, to get away from the toxic behaviors he brought. I was anxious and depressed for a long time, thinking that something was just wrong with me. After moving out, I realize the anxiety and pressure that was put on me was not my fault and I can be normal. I have grown up significantly (sooner than I needed to) and have grown out of my anxious life.However, being young with parents still together makes the cut from my father particularly hard. There are times where I will see him act not so terrible and second guess cutting him out of my life. This article was shared by one of my Facebook friends and I bookmarked it after reading it. I still come to tears sometimes after thinking about my father and our relationship, but articles like this help me realize how OK I will be when it has ceased.

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Julie kent

Way being mindful has help me, I used to drive on autopilot, and was a poor driver, I am now far more aware of what I’m doing and I am a calmer driver. My memory has improved, my mood has evened out, rather than hi peaks and low troughs. Dealing with the public, I am less judgemental about customers, and because I’m happier, I’m finding people are nicer to me.
My advice is practice, it gets easier and the benefits are genuine.

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Kaizer

For someone who has been on the fringes of meditation (the very outer fringes) this article has helped me understand what it really is all about and more importantly how simple it is. Thanks you

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a j marr

here is a new interpretation of mindfulness you may find of interest

A New Interpretation of Mindfulness and a Simple Proof

Arguably the most influential non-religious movement to advance personal happiness and satisfaction in present times is the variant of meditation called ‘mindfulness’. Simply defined, mindfulness represents continuous non-judgmental awareness. But the converse of non-judgment, namely making judgments, may entail negative outcomes (perseverative judgments as represented by rumination, worry, or distraction) or positive ones (non-perseverative judgments on what to have for dinner or what route to take on the way home). Perseverative cognition is uniquely correlated with stress, anxiety, and depression, but non-perseverative thought (as well as thinking of nothing at all) is correlated with relaxation, positive affect, and feelings of happiness. Thus it may be concluded that the definition of mindfulness over-prescribes the type of cognitive operations that need to be curtailed in order to attain positive emotional outcomes. It follows that the definition of mindfulness must be attenuated to represent the avoidance of perseverative judgments alone. By no means does this invalidate mindfulness, rather it merely determines the type of judgments we should be mindful about, and allows one to be easily mindful all of the time rather than from time to time that is the practical result of avoiding all judgment, and significantly enhances the argument for its practice.

This definition of mindfulness complements the ‘perseverative cognition hypothesis’ which associates the debilitating aspect of stress with perseverative cognition alone. As advanced by the psychologists G. Brosschot and JF Thayer, “The perseverative cognition hypothesis holds that stressful events cannot affect people’s health, unless they think repetitively or continuously (that is, ‘perseverate cognitively’) about these stressful events. Stressful events themselves are often too short, as are the physiological responses to them. Therefore, the physiological responses during these stressors are unlikely to cause bodily harm. More importantly, many stressful events are merely worried about, or feared in the future, while they often do not happen or do not have the feared consequences. Nevertheless, the body reacts with prolonged physiological responses to continuous thoughts (perseverative cognition) about these stressors. Therefore, it is the perseverative cognition, and not the stressors that can eventually lead to disease. In scientific terms, it is said that perseverative cognition is a mediator of the detrimental effects of stress on one’s health.”

How Meditation Elicits Profound Relaxation

Meditative procedures work so distinctively well to counteract stress because they uniquely require the consistent avoidance of perseverative thought for a significant and continuous period of time, and you need to consistently avoid distractive, worrisome or ruminative thoughts for at least an hour for your muscles to fully relax. In other words, full or profound relaxation takes time. When your muscles do completely relax, you will feel a sense of pleasure or euphoria due to the release of endogenous opioids in the brain that is concomitant with profound relaxation. (Citation)

Since distraction is the preeminent cause of neuro-muscular activation or tension, it’s easy to prove this point. Simply avoid all distraction for a timed hour, and see if you can do that for two or three consistent hours a day, and merely record your progress over a few days. You will note that you will feel totally and pleasurably relaxed, a feeling that will extend into your otherwise stress filled day.

And the good thing is that you will be fully rested and have a natural ‘high’, and will not have to take a course on mindfulness, or meditation, or even for that matter read the link to the book that follows! It’s that simple.

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Anne

Very useful information, I am ready to give it a try. Anything that can assist me now, I am willing. So much of what I have read about anxiety and IBS relates to me.
Thanks.

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Sue F

Karen, I’ve just come across this article while reading your article on anxiety. I am sitting in my lounge room having a bit of a practice. There is a lovely breeze blowing and it is catching the wind chimes from the neighbour’s verandah. What a lovely way to spend a few minutes.

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Kylie

Hi….I now live in Thailand and I spent 12 months living in a mindful community…..I loved it! Mindfulness has taught me to be less reactive in emotional situations……well most of the time! lol Thanks for sharing this great article.

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Danielle Truini

Karen… Well Done. “Mindfulness” can be a difficult concept to put into words. I’ve seen it presented in a number of ways. You, however nailed it! Your explanation captured the essence of the practice, all while maintaining a simple and thorough explanation. You left no questions unanswered and even managed to entice the reader to give it a try.

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Mike

This is a great article – I have a child who is now a freshman in college and one who is in first grade. both experience anxiety in their own ways. I have always told them “you’ll be ok”, “nothing to worry about” etc. My older daughter has found over the last 2-3 years that sitting in the presence of Jesus in the form of adoration and simply being quiet (mindfulness with a purpose) has immensely helped reduce anxiety, stress, & depression. No doubt some will see this post and scoff. I challenge those to simply give it an honest try and see if it makes a difference in his / her life.

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Cathy Egan

I am a mature woman, and have a 42yr old daughter who is rebuilding her life, and a nearly 40yr old son who has been depressed for nearly 20 years. Son has been made redundant, and is soon to lose his present accommodation. I have recently been meditating for 20 minutes every day, and using being in the moment when either of my children are feeling at crisis point. I have been able to support them in loving personal ways, and seen them develop strengths they were unaware of. Instead of giving up when my son feels at rock bottom he is using this difficult time as an opportunity to change and grow. Instead of being stressed and worried, because I am meditating, I can support from a place of calm, and hopefully love. Love this site.

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you Cathy! I’m so pleased that you have been able to find a way to move in strength through difficult times. I really know how hard it is watching people you love go through pain and loss – when it’s your children it can feel as though it wouldn’t hurt more if it was happening to you. It sounds as though this is a rebuilding time for both of them, but know that tough times don’t stay tough forever. You sound like a wonderful support. Much love and strength to you and your family.

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nishtha

I like this article, I m a teenager & I do practice mindfulness.This article gives me more incentive 2 practice mindfulness meditation.

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Paul

I am fighting depression, with anxiety present a great deal of the time. Doing something about it, researching tools to address it has helped a great deal as has heysigmund.com
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

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betty

I am a kindergarten teacher who has recently had a string of extraordinary bad events. I am now left suffering from severe anxiety and are struggling to do anything normal at all. I am going to try mindfulness tonight and please can you pray that this could be the way out of my nightmare. I just want my life back

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heysigmund

You will be in my thoughts tonight. Mindfulness does take time, so keep with it. If your anxiety is becoming debilitating, counselling might be worth a try. Anxiety is something that is very responsive to intervention. Anything you can do at home is also important. I’m so pleased that you’re trying the mindfulness but be sure to stay with it. I hope you find a way out of this too. Sending you my very best wishes.

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Maree Smith

HeySigmund, I am so glad that I stumbled on to this article about anxiety. I have been a very strong and independent woman all of my life, but at 56 and many many years of difficult situations and heartache I have now found myself in the anxiety club along with my husband who has always suffered anxiety from childhood. Your article has helped immensely. Keep up the great work. I’m sure you help many more people than you realise. xx

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laurie bernhard

I’m a school psychologist and sent your anxiety piece to a number of colleagues. One passed on the website/app for smilingmind.com.au which has a free mindfulness program which is for children and adults. I’ve now used it with two school populations (following an overview of your anxiety article). Looking forward to seeing how this goes.
Thanks for what you provide!

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Anne

I’ve always found the idea of meditation a bit daunting because it somehow feels like you need years of training to do it properly! But the way you’ve described mindfulness makes it seem so much more approachable… and really it’s the same thing isn’t it?
I struggle with anxiety and have learnt about the benefits of mindfulness but your summary of why and how is the best I’ve read. Thank-you!

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heysigmund

You’re welcome, and yes – mindfulness is just a form of meditation. Do you know, I used to think the same thing as you about meditation. Then I found mindfulness and I love it. It takes a bit of practice though so stick with it – it will be worth it!

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Karen Dille

Thankyou so much for your article on mindfulness. I’m forever thinking to far ahead or thinking about the past. I will certainly use your mindfulness techniques.

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heysigmund

You’re welcome! I’m so pleased you’re going to try the techniques. Stay with them – they might take some practice – but from someone who, like you, spends too much time thinking in the future or the past, I can tell you they really work. Would love to hear how you go.

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Wayne

Ok sounds great but what are the thoughts you are talking about noticing. Meaning the difference between the ones we are supposed to allow ourselves to think of and then the ones that we are supposed to get back to our breathing. I am confused on this. Please explain. I have a mind that constantly wonders and jumps all around thinking of so many things all at the same time.

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heysigmund

It can be a little bit confusing I know. The idea is to stay completely in the present. So just notice what’s happening to you in the moment. You’ll find if you’re thinking, you’re probably thinking about the past or the future. It’s important that you don’t judge yourself for wandering, just notice that you’ve done it then come back to the present. It will take a bit of getting used to to stay in the present, particularly if you’re one (like me) who quite likes to wander. Stay with it though and it will make a difference. Hope that makes a bit more sense.

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Carol

Thank you. Your example explanation for young ones is nicely phrased (though for our family everyone is over 15 years old and very scientifically minded), the information is good and to the point. I like your explanation and info about mindfulness and it’s so very relate-able, simple to apply. I had not realized that I use some of this technique to dissolve headaches when I want to avoid medications, but I’ll be more mindful 🙂 of it now. Now, to help our teens who don’t really want my input….!

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heysigmund

You’re welcome! Ahhh teenagers! For what it’s worth, mine rarely want my input too. I can’t tell you how many times my advice is met with ‘yeah. I know. What’s for dinner?’ Sheeesh! Fortunately, the advice in this article was one piece of advice my daughter lapped up (it doesn’t always happen that way!) which is why I wrote the post. I love hearing from people about how they are using some of the techniques – like mindfulness for your headaches. Here is a link – just in case – to the original ‘grown-up’ version I wrote about anxiety https://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-anxiety/ . Thank you for taking the time to make contact.

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Julie

Such important information for each individual. And with all of these benefits, mindfulness also creates such an awareness of who we are. Thank you so much!

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Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️
The behaviour that comes with separation anxiety is the symptom not the problem. To strengthen children against separation anxiety, we have to respond at the source – the felt sense of separation from you.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person, there will be always be anxiety unless there is at least one of 2 things: attachment with another trusted, adult; or a felt sense of you holding on to them, even when you aren’t beside them. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it needs more than an adult being present. Just because there is another adult in the room, doesn’t mean your child will experience a deep sense of safety with that adult. This doesn’t mean the adult isn’t safe - it’s about what the brain perceives, and that brain is looking for a deep, felt sense of safety. This will come from the presence of an adult who, through their strong, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for them, and their joy in doing so. The joy in caretaking is important. It lets the child rest from seeking the adult’s care because there will be a sense that the adult wants it enough for both.

This can be helped along by showing your young one that you trust the adult to love and care for your child and keep him or her safe in your absence: ‘I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.’ This doesn’t mean children will instantly feel the attachment, but the path towards that will be more illuminated.

To help them feel you holding on even when you aren’t with them, let them know you’ll be thinking of them and can’t wait to be with them again. I used to tell my daughter that every 15 seconds, my mind makes sure it knows where she is. Think of this as ‘taking over’ their worry. ‘You don’t have to worry about you or me because I’m taking care of both of us – every 15 seconds.’ This might also look like giving them something of yours to hold on to while you’re gone – a scarf, a note. You will always be their favourite way to safety, but you can’t be everywhere. Another loving adult or the felt presence of you will help them rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say or whether to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter if the ‘right’ words aren’t there, because often there no right words. There are also no wrong ones. Often it’s not even about the words. Your presence, your attention, the sound of your voice - they all help to soften the hard edges of the world. Humans have been talking for as long as we’ve had heartbeats and there’s a reason for this. Talking heals. 

It helps to connect the emotional right brain with the logical left. This gives context and shape to feelings and helps them feel contained, which lets those feelings soften. 

You don’t need to fix anything and you don’t need to have all the answers. Even if the words land differently to the way you expected, you can clean it up once it’s out there. What’s important is opening the space for conversation, which opens the way to you. Try, ‘I’m wondering how you’re doing with everything. Would you like to talk?’ 

And let them take the lead. Some days they’ll want to talk about ‘it’ and some days they’ll want to talk about anything but. Whether it’s to distract from the mess of it all or to go deeper into it so they can carve their way through the feeling to the calm on the other side, healing will come. So ask, ‘Do you want to talk about ‘it’ or do you want to talk about something else? Because I’m here for both.’ ♥️
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