Mindfulness is an Eastern, Buddhist and Sikh discipline. It involves being purposefully and non-judgmentally aware of your thoughts, as well as your body, in the “present moment”. This means that you do not try to alter what you are doing, you just observe yourself doing it.
This does not give you a big thumbs up in terms of eating an entire packet of biscuits, just because you are present in the moment. It means you become aware of the emotions, cravings and thought processes involved that led up to you eating that packet of biscuits.
Being mindful may be defined as having a calm, clear mind, focused on the present moment in a non-judgemental way. When practised, mindfulness involves orientating oneself to the present moment, maintaining awareness of one’s immediate experience, instead of being distracted by thoughts of the past or projecting thoughts of the future, or an avoidance of one’s experience. Mindfulness is about being free to the here and now, we are not our past and the future is not known.
Cultivating mindfulness involves regular practice in which you focus your attention on a particular stimulus, like your breath, for a period of time. Should you do this on a daily basis, for five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening, you are able to cultivate ‘everyday mindfulness’. Everyday mindfulness involves maintaining the open, accepting, and present focus of attention during daily or moment-to-moment activities.
Mindfulness-based therapies are key in mainstream psychology in dealing with stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic pain and cancer recovery. Hollywood is also involved and interested in mindfulness. Goldie Hawn, for example, manages the Hawn Foundation which promotes “mindful awareness” programmes for children in schools. This helps children to develop an understanding of their thoughts and feelings.
Whether you are doing double maths or in the boardroom, you are able to tune in to your thoughts and body, non-judgmentally. This discipline enables you to step back from your ego, in self acceptance, calmly and confidently. Hence, your life becomes more considered as you become more aware.
With financial strains being the norm now and out of control materialism backfiring on us, mindfulness is an ancient eastern and present day panacea.
How does mindful awareness help with food craving?
Clinical trials support the effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy which has nearly halved rates of relapse among those with depression.
For food cravings, a technique called ‘urge surfing’ can work effectively. “You learn to feel the urge coming, to eat. Observe it building, peaking and passing,” .. Food craving is “just an urge, you don’t need to act on it,” explains Michael Chaskalson from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, a leading programme based on Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work. Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn is a forerunner in the field of mindfulness therapies, especially for stress reduction.
Mindfulness enables you to acknowledge your cravings, without feeding them or fighting them.
You have to return to the cravings time and time again. Each time you overcome a bout of craving it becomes less intense and less frequent, if you don’t feed that craving and do not give in to the craving. Moreover, the mindfulness technique of urge surfing improves.
Summary of urge surfing
Purpose: To experience food craving anew and to let it pass.
- Be clear that food craving will pass by itself.
- Food craving urges are like ocean waves, which flow in and then subside.
- Practise mindfulness often and notice when food craving impulses or urges appear. Then you will be equipped to ride these waves without succumbing to them by applying mindfulness.
Urge surfing itself
- Practise mindfulness
- Be aware of the breath. Breathe in and out. Do not try to change the breath
- Become aware of your thoughts
- Non-judgmentally, without fighting or feeding your thoughts, gently bring your attention back to the breath
- Be aware of how the food craving affects you
- Focus on the area where the craving is being felt, notice what is happening
- Notice the type, position and intensity of the sensation
- Notice how the type, position and intensity of the sensation changes each time you inhale and exhale
- Be vigilant about what happens and notice changes over time
Of course the result of your mindful awareness depends on your diligence: do you have another biscuit or allow the craving to pass?