There are lots of different kinds of meditation practices, mindfulness is one specific form. Simply put, it’s paying attention on purpose; it literally means stopping and paying attention to whatever is arising in your awareness in the present moment, in a non-judgmental way. This can allow you to cultivate calm, clarity, presence, and insight.
People often associate breathing exercises with meditation, so in mindfulness practice for example, if you’re meditating on your breath, you would simply place your focus on the experience of the breath and follow the cycle of the inhale and exhale.
Paying attention >>View Video>>
Your breath rises and falls – you feel it in your belly or in your chest. While you’re paying attention to your breath, more often than not, you’ll notice how busy the mind is and how many thoughts are flowing through your head in every moment.
It’s very important to realise that the purpose of meditation is not to stop the mind from being busy, you’re just practicing observing its activity and in doing so are able to take one step back from being caught in the bustling nature of the mind, freeing yourself from a lot of the stories your mind tells you.
Being aware that your attention has wandered is the golden moment in practicing mindfulness. When that happens, mindfully, gently and with awareness, bring your attention back to your breath. When you’re practicing mindfulness, you’re not judging yourself whenever your attention wanders.
That’s what mindfulness is – it’s a simple practice and it can be very profound.
Mindfulness practices can be woven into well-being practices too. For instance, when we can’t get to sleep it’s often because our minds are restless and anxious. So in that scenario one technique to try is to allow and accept the restlessness that is there. It might seem paradoxical to do that, but as soon as you’re not fighting, the anxiety can suddenly loosen and ease. You’re saying, “OK, restlessness is here, there is stress here, I mightn’t be able to get to sleep, I might be feeling anxious, but it is what it is in the moment”. Then, just try dropping your attention to your belly. When you do this you’re literally dropping out of your headspace where the restless thoughts are. Just focus on doing long, slow conscious breathing in and out of the belly and follow the movement of the belly rising and falling.
Long conscious breathing
The breath can be such a key in those moments when you feel anxious or want to feel relaxed, especially long conscious breathing. That can be as simple as just breathing in, inhaling as you count to 3 or 4 and breathing out as you count to 4 or 5. Long conscious breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system which slows down your heart, lowers your blood pressure, and puts the brakes on our fight or flight response.
Just by focused conscious breathing, you’re letting your body calm down. It’s science, it’s physiology. When you start to do that long conscious breathing, your body responds. Doing that for a few cycles of the breath when you’re feeling anxious or stressed will help – it’s a real go-to practice.
Some people have issues with breathing. If you’ve got asthma or some lung difficulties, focusing on breathing might cause some stress. That’s OK. In that scenario you can use another anchor for your attention which can be simply dropping your attention down to the soles of your feet and feeling your feet on the ground – whether you’re standing or sitting. This drops your attention out of your head, your busy mind, and literally moves it down to your feet. Focusing and feeling that connection to the earth will help you feel grounded and centred.
If you’re sitting on a seat, feel your backside on the seat. Again, this will take your attention out of your head and will make you feel anchored and stable.
1) long-conscious, slow breathing
2) noticing your feet on the floor or backside on the seat, and getting a sense of being rooted and grounded
3) noticing any sounds that are happening – this brings your awareness back to a present moment experience
Throughout the day
Throughout the day, take a number of moments – it can be a minute, it can be two minutes; set your timer. It can be heading to work on the bus. All you need to do is close your eyes for a minute or two, do the breathing we spoke about or any of the go-to exercises.
At night-time, use the breath to calm yourself before you go to sleep, to settle.
When you’re out walking, take a minute to feel your feet on the ground – anything that helps you to come back to the present moment will help your mind settle.
When you’re stressed and anxious it’s often because you’re thinking about something that’s going to happen or something that has happened; it’s so easy to get caught in the story that you’re telling yourself about an experience. But those thoughts and stories pull us away from this present moment, and life only happens in this present moment. When you’re right here, right now dealing with the present moment, you’re handling it; you’re managing it; you’re being with it. With mindfulness, you just come back now, back home, back to this moment, letting go of the story. Mindfulness takes practice and that’s why we call it a practice, a meditation practice.
15 years ago >>View Video>>
I’m a musician as well as a mindfulness teacher. I started incorporating meditation into my life about 15 years ago when I was doing a lot of travelling. I was doing a lot of touring, I was kind of living between two countries, Ireland and America and my stress levels were pretty high.
As we all know in the creative industry there’s a lot of uncertainty as well so I found that practicing mindfulness kept me centred, kept me stable even though I was moving around a lot and there were a lot of changing circumstances.
I knew that when I meditated, I could come back each time and get centred and that still works for me today. Now, every day, I usually sit for about 20-30 minutes practicing mindfulness. I notice that on days that I don’t do it, I feel a bit out of sync, out of kilter.
Even if you don’t have time to sit for 30 minutes, incorporating those little glimpse practices I spoke about earlier, the conscious breathing for a few cycles, the grounding practices throughout the day, these will help.
Research >>View Video>>
There’s so much research happening regarding meditation and how it affects our brain. MRI scans show us that it’s literally changing our brains, it’s changing the neural pathways in our brains because we’re learning to deal with anxiety and stress in a different way.
Those moments where we experience difficulty and react in a non-mindful way, result in getting more anxious and more panicky and restless. When we learn to meditate and incorporate that practice into our lives, we’re starting to respond to the anxiety rather than react and that can be enough to handle that anxiety, to handle that stress.It’s subconscious, we sometimes don’t know we’re doing that but it’s because the brain literally has been changed by doing a regular practice of mindfulness meditation. There are so many studies happening at the moment that are showing that, it’s kind of exciting. This stuff literally changes the brain in a positive way to help us deal with difficult scenarios. It’s lovely to feel relaxed and calm and it’s also lovely to know that, “Wow my brain’s benefitting from this too”.
Creativity >>View Video>>
I found out very early that when I started to meditate I was getting the same sensations that I did when I was performing and writing, it’s those moments where you’re in flow in creativity and you feel that you’re connected to something bigger and more than. That’s the same sense that you get when you drop into meditation.
For me, meditation and creativity come from the same place. When you’re creating, you’re dropping below the surface. When you’re meditating, you’re dropping below the surface. We can only create something new in the present moment. In meditation you learn to come back to the present moment.
Mindfulness meditation is all about observing. Look at the great artists, they were the great observers. They were able to look at the world, look at life and express it through their art.
I honestly have found the meditation has deepened my creative process, without a doubt.
When we sit and meditate and get calm and feel relaxed, we’re dropping deeper into our subconscious. A lot our struggles with creativity comes from the judgmental, conscious mind that says, “Awh that’s no good, no, don’t do that”.
When we start to relax, the inner critic starts to relax too. It’s fascinating because when we’re dropping deeper below the surface, the inner critics, the resistance, the distractions begin to dissolve a little and when our bodies and minds are relaxed we’re accessing our subconscious as well and there’s a lot of really interesting stuff stored in there for creating. You’re able to drop into that space and access it more, get into that state of flow that we all know as artists.
While the classes that Ben is holding with Minding Creative Minds have been booked out, you can find information about his work here BeStillAwareAwake.com
Remember, if you’re a member of the Irish music industry, you can talk to a counsellor free of charge at any time of the day or night. Simply call the phone number below.