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Being Mindful during COVID

Today’s world has become one of uncertainty

The situation with COVID has become a physical and emotional drain on all generations. With no breather from the situation, the amount of stress and anxiety that people are facing is at its peak. While the nation tries to fight hard to ‘flatten the curve’ there are ways for us to enhance our mental health and well-being at these stifling times.

The youth are especially affected by the high levels of uncertainty during these times. The dilemma concerning their future, being locked up at home with limited or no interaction with the outside world and socialization at its minimum, the youth of today are facing a mental crisis. New routines with online classes and assignments, the need to be safe and no support, there is a feeling of being in jail. Intense levels of claustrophobia, feelings of hopelessness, and desperation creep in, One of the ways we could overcome these challenges is by practicing mindfulness.

Origin of Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Rooted in Buddhism

Mindfulness is rooted in the Buddhist meditative practice of Vipassana. The term mindfulness is the English translation of the Pali word Sati. The principles of mindfulness are thus rooted in Buddhist philosophy and teachings. In particular, it is based on the Buddhist philosophy that observation of thoughts, sensations, and emotions as something impermanent, rather than something unchangeable, is the key to relief from suering.

Mindfulness is not a religion nor is it associated with any. It is merely a technique used to function better and lead a holistic life.

Western culture

The emergence of mindfulness in Western culture can be attributed to Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn studied mindfulness under several Buddhist teachers, such as Philip Kapleau and Thich Nhat Hanh. As a professor at the University of Massachusetts medical school in the late 1970s, Kabat-Zinn developed a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to treat chronic pain. He discovered that patients would often try to avoid pain—but that that avoidance would lead to deeper distress. Practicing mindfulness was a more successful approach.

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Being fully aware of the situation of the pandemic but not letting it take over our existence in a way that we cannot function, is what practicing mindfulness would do.

What is Mindfulness?

To live mindfully is to live in the moment and reawaken oneself to the present, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. The pandemic has left everyone thinking about the future, about the uncertainty of what the future holds, about the lack of control we have over our own lives. We start to think of works case scenarios, over-imagine outcomes of the situation, and develop anxiety which makes us dysfunctional. To be mindful at such times is to observe and label such thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the body in an objective manner. Mindfulness can therefore be a tool to avoid self-criticism and judgment while identifying and managing difficult emotions and hence reduce anxiety.
Mindfulness allows the practitioner to not only attend to their bodily sensations but also let them pass non-judgmentally and objectively. The Covid situation around our county has left people confused about what they feel. With thoughts and fears at their peak, the mind is unable to analyze what the greatest fear is. Is it the fear of succumbing to the virus? Or maybe the fear of the uncertain future? Or just the fear of being safe? With no socialization and relationships taking a back seat and these fears increase in magnitude. With mindfulness, the practitioner is aware of what they are feeling. However, they merely observe these feelings without reacting to them. "Knowing what you are doing while you are doing it is the essence of mindfulness practice" (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). The individual is not taught to isolate their feelings but rather to attend to such feelings, whether pleasant or unpleasant. They are also trained not to hold on to these feelings, but to let them pass. Holding on to preferences makes it hard for individuals to break habitual behavior, and to act consciously. The practice of letting go and increased awareness helps them live consciously
Lack of control over this virus has brought with it a mountain of confusion. Mindfulness practice can help in this aspect as it is focused on the art of non-doing. This means that practitioners are trained in allowing things to happen, rather than trying to control them. This practice increases levels of patience and reduces restlessness, agitation, and reactions to urges or impulses. Practicing COVID-appropriate behavior has become a must but is a mighty task in itself. Remembering to wash your hands frequently, keep social distance, wear a mask, be conscious not to touch your face, etc. can most certainly be overwhelming.

Foundation of Mindfulness

By being non-judgemental, one can detach from the sensation, thought, or emotion and not get aected by it, thus altering the connection one has with that particular sensation, thought, or feeling.

The foundational practices of mindfulness are mindfulness of the body, where one is aware of the breath, mindfulness of feelings, which may be pleasurable or pleasant as well as painful or unpleasant, mindfulness of the mind, where one understands their mind as being greedy or not, hateful or not, deluded, developed, liberated, and so on, and finally mindfulness of life where the individual detaches the self from things that may or may not be important for survival.

Though mindfulness is a form of meditation there is one key aspect, which dierentiates mindfulness from other forms. Unlike other forms of meditation, Mindfulness does not stress the component of not attending to thoughts that may invade our meditative practice. This form looks at attending to any thoughts that may come our way during practice. Thoughts are seen as clouds that appear and pass on. They are not held onto but are recognized as a thought and let go of non-judgmentally and objectively. One does not feel guilty or discouraged by the fact that they are unable to concentrate through the practice. This form of meditation also does not focus on breath regulation but only focuses on the in and out-breath which may be slow, fast, or medium paced. We are not focusing on change but only focusing on the moment and recognizing it with no bias or yearning.

How can we practice Mindfulness?

The most common way of practicing mindfulness is by bringing awareness to the breath without changing its rhythm. This creates an anchor for increasing engagement in mindfulness without increasing expectations of its effects. It helps in committing fully to the moment, rather than focusing on the result of the practice.
The Breath

Focus on the breath is also the first step in mindfulness training. This involves a focus on the inhalation and exhalation of breath. After mastering this, practitioners then focus on the art of concentration. Once again, this is focused primarily on the breath. Practitioners train to concentrate on the breath without attempting to alter it.

The Body

The next step in mindfulness practice focuses on mindfulness of the body. This is achieved through body scan meditation. Tension is released from the body by focusing on the breath. Finally, the practi - tioner is trained in walking meditation. This form of meditation makes the practitioner aware of their movement within and between spaces.

Mindfulness techniques focus primarily on the breath, body, and movement.

However, they also focus on reduction in negative thoughts, improved concentration, and reduction in negative emotional states. This is achieved by training practitioners to focus on the present and to observe and let go of negative thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Thoughts are loo ked at as just thoughts and do not make an individual. This is also achieved through the use of metaphors and paradoxes. This ma kes the individual more aware of impermanence and in turn regulates thoughts and emotions.

This is the time to STOP

S - Stop

T - Take a breath

O - Observe your feelings

P - Proceed mindfully

Why should we practice Mindfulness?

There are various benefits to practicing mindfulness, especially during a pandemic like we are going through. Benefits extend to the practitioners' physical, mental, and emotional health. Those practicing mindfulness can cope better with the illness, anger created because of it, and the anxiety that surrounds it.
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