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Mindfulness activities, of which there are many, have been primarily designed to sharpen gradually our five senses – sight, hearing, touch (sensation), taste, smell – heightening our sense of awareness of the world around us. As we practice the mindfulness activities, our ability to perceive what is around us becomes more finely tuned, and so we are less likely to focus and dwell on what we think is there or would like to be there.
Each activity allows us to bring something that is not in focus into focus, or something we’re not aware of into awareness, or something that is in the background into the foreground. This is done intentionally using each of our five senses at first, then with a combination of senses the more experienced we become.
Mindfulness of thoughts: This involves watching or observing the passing flow of our thoughts without becoming lost in the meaning of the thoughts – without becoming engaged in them in any way. Imagining they are like clouds drifting in and out or our head, or that they are words on a movie screen that we are observing from a distance.
This activity can be used on its own and is also essential when practicing any of the other activities, because it is the activity of the mind that takes us away from being mindful of our chosen focus.
Mindfulness of the breath: This is the most widely used mindfulness activity and involves feeling the ebb and flow of the breath, that is, focusing on the sensations as we breathe in and then out, or on the gaps between each breath.
The Body Scan: A gradual focus on each part of the body in turn, paying close attention to the sensations experienced. For those body areas where it’s difficult to perceive physical feelings, deliberately tensing or wriggling those parts can help. This activity can be most useful for those of us who are learning to manage chronic pain, or stress-related aches and pains.
Mindfulness of emotions: Being mindful of emotions allows us to pay attention to a particular feeling we’re experiencing, even if it is very distressing, without being overwhelmed or consumed by it’s emotional charge. Mindfulness of emotions involves focusing on the physical sensations they create in the body. When we experience an emotion, various muscles, the skin and internal organs of the body respond in different ways depending on the emotion felt.
Attending to these physical changes in the body, just observing them curiously and allowing them to be there, may give us the best possible way of resolving emotions.
Mindfulness of an activity: For example; walking, washing dishes, eating or drinking. Mindful walking involves paying close attention to each step that’s made along the way, not the destination. With mindful eating, each mouthful has the potential of being an explosion of the taste, sight, smell and physical sensation.
The Practice of Mindfulness
Mindfulness and therapy can be carried out in two ways: in a structured way and an unstructured one. Firstly, setting aside time each day to practice one of the mindfulness activities. Secondly, pausing briefly throughout the day to be mindful, say of a few breaths, or of the sensations in our shoulders, or of the sounds around us, and then continuing with our day.