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Getting Started with Mindfulness

An overview of mindfulness and the ABCD mind training

People often ask what mindfulness has done for me. I can honestly answer that it has changed my life experience. From the outside not much has changed (other than ageing) but inside I’m so much calmer, kinder and less stressed.

Seventy five percent of what we know about the brain we have learnt in the past three years.  This means we are now much clearer on how to train and influence the brain for increased happiness, ease and resilience.  Mindfulness is an ancient practice coming from Buddhism. The intention of the practice is to reduce our experience of suffering, while strengthening the experience of kindness, generosity and calm.

Mindfulness is a practice. Just like a rugby league player can’t become a great player by reading about rugby league, so you cannot get the benefits of mindfulness through reading about it – you have to practice it.

The reason mindfulness training works is due to neuroplasticity, meaning the brain changes through what we pay attention to. In effect, mindfulness training starts with using our mind to change our brain, training our attention muscle.

There are over 3200 pieces of research on mindfulness and they demonstrate conclusively that mindfulness increases focus and attention, improves quality of sleep, reduces the signs of ageing, improves resilience, memory and wellbeing, reduces blood pressure, promotes emotional regulation and increases our experience of joy.

ABCD Attention Training

We start mindfulness by doing the ABCD attention training. The ABCD stands for Attitude, Body, Breath, Counting, Distraction.

This is how you do the ABCD. First make yourself comfortable with feet flat on the floor and hands resting in the lap, and then close the eyes. Find a body posture that keeps you calm and yet alert. Remind yourself of the attitude in which you hold your little mind training.

The attitudes are:

  • Non-judging – Non-judging is the art of catching out the judging and then observing it with interest.
  • Accepting – Acceptance is saying “yes” to this moment, accepting it as it is; this does not mean you don’t make changes later, but first you accept.
  • Being curious – Seeing things with the beginner’s mind, as if for the first time.
  • Kindness – Kindness is the neurological antidote to negative mind states like envy, hatred, anger, stress and so on; kindness has scientifically proven positive effects on your psychological and physical wellbeing.

Bring each of these attitudes to mind as you settle into the attention training.

Next the Body. Notice the sensations in your feet, be curious around what they are experiencing, then move your attention to the body in the chair noticing how the body experiences the chair. Finally shift attention to the hands in the lap. Notice the warmth that is generated between the hands and the body.

Then the Breath. Start by noticing the breath where it is most noticeable. It can be useful to imagine that you are watching the breath through a glass unable to change or influence it.

Followed by Counting. Counting is to further stabilise the breath focus, you add the number at the end of the out breath. Where you start counting depends on the length of the meditation, for a 20-minute session you can start at 50 and then count down to 0 and then again back up to 55. If you want a 10-minute session, then you start counting at 25.

Finally be aware of Distractions. You will notice that the mind tends to comment and interrupt all the time. When you notice that you are distracted, you simply bring your attention back to the breath and the counting. This very action is how you strengthen your attention-muscle. This is the key to the ABCD.

Notice how you feel after mind training and commit to doing it for two, three or four weeks and then see how things start to shift.

For free downloads of the ABCD and other mind trainings visit Mindfulness Practice.