Mindfulness may seem like the latest fad, with adult colouring books taking up space in book stores everywhere, mindfulness apps becoming increasingly popular and employers trying to use it as a technique to drive productivity from their staff. However, the concept of mindfulness is not new nor is it likely to be going anywhere anytime soon, especially as more research is published to support its benefits. Unfortunately, it is not all as easy as buying a colouring in book or downloading the latest meditation app, so what is mindfulness exactly?
Defining mindfulness can be a challenging task, even for Mindfulness Consultant, Stephen Archer. Archer developed an interest early in life and has over 30 years experience in mindfulness practice, some of which he developed as an ordained Buddhist monk in Thailand. Now he works as the principal consultant, educator and trainer at Mindfulness Training helping others to understand the benefits of mindfulness practice.
Archer explains that we need to think of our mind as a natural environment just like we think of our body. We know that we should look after our bodies by eating right and exercising but how do we look after our minds? How can we ensure that we have a healthy mind? Archer says a healthy mind can be defined as a mind that is clear, calm, can easily focus and remain attentive.
Practicing mindfulness techniques is about focusing and noticing what is going on with our mind in the present. It is proven to reduce stress and increase productivity, which means it is great for athletes to use as part of their training.
Athletes should consider how much of their game is physical vs. psychological, then consider much time to spend training each. Most athletes would spend a great deal of time training their bodies but perhaps little or no time training their minds.
Archer says he often asks athletes to consider what training they are doing for their mind. “Most people don’t do any training for their mind. Mindfulness is a form of mind training. But not the usual type. We tend to think of mind training as academia (learning and gaining knowledge) but mindfulness is more about clearing the mind to enhance our ability to think and focus.”
Mindfulness is a meditation type practice which involves quietening the mind to focus on the present. As a result mindfulness practice enhances our cognitive performance and our ability to stay focused and engaged. So if you are reading this and want to know more, the best thing to do is simply give it a go. There is a lot of reading and information on mindfulness out there, and yes, there are colouring books too! But Stephen’s advice is to get practicing and try going to a mindfulness course. He believes one of the best ways to learn is to work with mentors who are experienced in mindfulness practice. There are many opportunities out there. For example, Stephen’s own practice offers retreats and courses and the Mental Health Foundation of NZ has a directory of providers.
Above: Stephen Archer, Principal Consultant - Mindfulness Training
Top tips from Stephen Archer:
- If you are an athlete, consider what percentage of your sport is psychological and whether or not you are giving your mind enough training. If not, start by giving mindfulness a go!
- To learn mindfulness you have to get out there and practice. Archer suggests attending mindfulness training programs or sessions.
- Practice, Practice and Practice…. This is not a skill you can easily learn by Googling and reading about online. You need to surround yourself with people who are skilled in mindfulness meditation and learn from them. There are lots of ways people can get involved with mindfulness practice nowadays – so get out there!