For my first post I have read Introducing Mindfulness: A Practical Guide by Tessa Watt. There are so many different resources out there nowadays on mindfulness, meditation and how to reduce anxiety and stress. From books to apps, to recordings, websites – the whole lot! But it’s quite difficult to know what is good and what is not.
Although nothing beats first-hand experience and one-to-one or group training I decided to provide you with a review of Introducing Mindfulness: A Practical Guide. This way you have some more insight into what a mindfulness book involves, what the results of doing the exercises of the book have been for me and what Tessa Watt did well. You will have a better idea of the type of outcomes you may (or may not – everybody is unique!) get from a mindfulness techniques book, what to expect and what to look out for in a high quality mindfulness guide.
The structure of the text begins very well with an informative introduction into the history of mindfulness. It describes where mindfulness began, how it developed, and its purpose. For somebody who didn’t know much about mindfulness beforehand it provided useful insight into what I was about to get myself into.
The clearest part of the text for me was where Tessa Watt gave the difference between mindfulness and meditation, since I had no idea there was a difference! Meditation is the act of pulling yourself away from your day to day to make room for practising the breathing exercises. Mindfulness is the act of remaining present in the activity you are doing at that moment in time.
Many chapters gave people’s experiences from practising particular mindfulness techniques. This made the process much easier and relatable especially in times when the exercises were tricky.
Meditation and mindfulness focus on not judging how you are feeling at that moment in time and treating it with good humour or lightheartedness. It is also good to not force or focus on the expected results. So it seems counter intuitive to include what to expect as an end result in the Guide. Unfortunately the book does do this. A lot of times when doing the exercises I found I would already be aware of what the intention is, therefore become frustrated if I didn’t achieve what the book had said would probably happen. I understand that this is a very difficult balance to strike, as it is human instinct to want to know what the end result will be. Less given expectations would have allowed me to concentrate better on the exercise. The book builds up the expectations we want to avoid in mindfulness for new participants.
Generally though, all other people’s experiences and thoughts on the practises are given after the exercise. This allows you to carry out the exercise without judgement and expectation – when mindfulness has the most effective results!
As the chapters become more about feelings (attitude, kindness, slowing down, reacting) and less about physical techniques (space, breath, brushing your teeth, body, feet etc.) deeper insights are revealed such as the use of mindfulness to manage emotions, sensations, and reactivity. It introduced me to various techniques for understanding and becoming curious of my emotions and sensations. As a result I am more open and less judgemental of the suggestions the text made on the outcome of meditation.
One element I found extremely interesting was that of changing the tone of voice we use for our internal dialogue. Along the process I felt my internal voice shift from harsh, criticising and angry tones to a calmer, much more understanding and gentle, accepting tone. From being present in the moment I felt a lot more grounded and ‘in my own body’. So I was less reactive. I also became much more accepting of my emotions and inquisitive of them – definitely better than being frustrated at myself for being frustrated!
My main finding was that with greater understanding of myself I have been steadily able to reduce the level of judgement I have towards my emotions (good and bad). I have become much more inquisitive, calmer and kinder of my thoughts and feelings than before. The change in my approach to myself, many times, makes the negative feelings dissolve.
I promised to tell you how I got on with the exercises in the guide… here goes!
Before starting any of the exercises I wrote down my intentions. I wanted to feel more centred, present and improve my concentration. My mind has a tendency to be on 100 things at once. This means a lot of the time I can’t express myself as well as I would hope because I interrupt one trail of thought with 7 others.
The start was SO difficult.
For the first exercise I was focusing on my breathing and the 5 different senses to be aware of my surroundings. I lost concentration many times and then when I realised I had I would get quite frustrated that I couldn’t do the exercise properly. But I pulled my focus back to my surroundings. I noticed the dusty, damp smell after it rains mixed with the musky perfume of the lady sitting next to me, the sticky mess left from removed adverts on the sides of the bus and the texture of the thin cushion padding of the bus seat under my thighs.
I felt a lot less judgemental during the meditation exercises compared to the mindfulness tasks. This was because meditation was already out of my comfort zone and the normality of my day. But with mindfulness the integration into my day to day activities made it more difficult to focus. These were tasks like brushing my teeth during which I was used to my mind wandering. So when I had to focus on the actual process rather than thinking about other things it was a struggle. It became easier once I stopped being annoyed with myself and just analysed my feelings. This was without a need to determine why my mind had strayed and solely accepted that it had, beginning anew each time I refocused.
Activities such as the body scan really let me zoom in and out to any areas of tension or stress. I have quite a bad back. So what I did was locate the precise area in pain, zoom into it with curiosity and exhale a lot of the discomfort away. Then I developed the skill of widening my focus again on the entire back. I’m really progressing with this skill. It is also starting to seep into other areas of my life, like work – I look at particular details but then need to zoom out and consider the bigger picture.
An exercise I haven’t been able to get to grips with is trying mindfulness in moments I dislike. I have noticed when I am angry I feel a tingling, vibrating sensation throughout my body, which feels like my blood is boiling, I start to feel warmer then hot until it is too much and I ‘explode’ (which can come in the form of crying, emotional outbursts, etc.). I have managed to feel the uncomfortable sensation without exploding or feeling I need to react but it is a hard task. Bringing my awareness to the reactions so I can control them, rather than have them control me, is still something I am getting to grips with.
Overall, after two months of developing my mindfulness practises I am feeling a lot more self-aware. This has led me to be more mindful and less reactive, much calmer and kinder to myself. So, the exercises have been effective for me. Refocusing is no longer so difficult and I am much more understanding of myself when my mind wanders.
Having told you what the Guide consists of, what my experience has been with the exercises and what I have developed as I have consistently practised them, I would definitely recommend the book. The level of empathy provided and simplicity of the techniques given make them very easy to follow. Since Adrian began teaching me mindfulness techniques to act as a guinea pig for all of you and give you my account, I can tell you: a book, an app or any other resource cannot compare to the benefits gained from one-on-one tuition. But besides this fact the book is definitely one I would recommend for those beginning their mindfulness journey.