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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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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