By Linda Collins
On July 31st 2014 I fell off my bike, landing helmet first on the side of Camden Street. At the time I knew I didn’t feel quite right, but I didn’t have a scratch on me so I just thought to myself : “I’ll be grand. I’ll get through work, get a good night’s sleep and I’ll be back to myself tomorrow.”
Later that day I found myself sitting in front of a doctor being diagnosed with a severe concussion. I would later discover I had suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), also known as post concussion syndrome (PCS).
Over the following number of months I discovered many methods of helping in my recovery from and living with a brain injury, one of which was mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that makes you more aware of the present moment and your surrounding environment. It helps you to become more aware of yourself. But for me, and my recovery, it played a huge role in helping me to switch off from the pain and stress that came with my brain injury.
In Buddhist teachings, mindfulness is utilised to develop self-knowledge and wisdom that gradually leads to what is described as enlightenment or the complete freedom from suffering. So yeah, I think it’s definitely worth a try!
How effective is mindfulness? Why should I do it?
For me, and anyone else I know who practices mindfulness, it is hugely effective. Throughout my recovery it helped me to overcome my insomnia, it helped me to deal with pain and it gave my brain an opportunity to relax and switch off without having to physically sleep. But one of the main benefits for me was the role it played in helping with my mental health. It helped with my worry, my anxiety and my spiralling emotions.
Do I have to do it everyday?
Like anything the more you put into it the more you’ll get out of it, but you don’t need to practice every day. When you first start practicing mindfulness it can be really difficult – I certainly struggled! It’s really hard to switch off and focus on the ‘now’. But the more you practice the easier it gets. When I first started I practiced everyday, I made it part of my routine and stuck to it wherever possible. But now I might only practice once a week and I still find all of the benefits.
What are the different types of mindfulness?
There are so many different types of mindfulness out there! The main ones that I practice are:
Body-Scan: With a body-scan practice you simply focus on one part of your body at a time, breathing deep into it and releasing any tension that may be there. You work your way upwards from the bottom until your entire body is relaxed and your mind is switched off from any distractions. This is the type of mindfulness I started with. It’s easy to find guided, body-scan meditations to follow on YouTube and for someone knew to ‘switching off’ it eases you in, as you still have something to focus on.
Breath: With a breath practice you focus on your breathing, just observing how it feels to breath in and out. When thoughts come in you just let them go and come back to focus on your breathing. This is hugely beneficial for my anxiety. Now, when I find myself getting worked up or beginning to panic, I close my eyes and bring myself into my mindfulness and focus on my breathing to help catch my breath and calm down.
Thoughtful: When practicing your thoughtful mindfulness you are present in the room and instead of switching off, you become more aware. As thoughts enter your mind you allow them in, but you don’t judge them. You just let them come and go. This is great for self-awareness and not attaching emotions to activities out of your control.
Where can I do it?
You can do it anywhere and everywhere. That’s the beauty of mindfulness! From lying in bed, to sitting on the bus, to a café or park; you can achieve a mindful state anywhere. When I’m out and about in a busy location I’ll just pop on my headphones, block out the noise, close my eyes and go for it! I also joined a mindfulness group during the summer where we practice mindfulness once a week and the type of meditation varies all of the time. So I’ve been introduced to a whole new variety of mindfulness that I didn’t even know existed! We actually did Tai Chi one week which was really different for me, but I absolutely loved it!
How do you practice mindfulness by yourself?
I started off by listening to a guided meditation CD that my Occupational Therapist gave me. But you can find a huge variety of guided meditations on YouTube and apps such as Headspcae and Calm are great too!
Linda Collins shares her journey at patiencelivingwithabraininjury.com where she shares many tips and techniques for managing mental health symptoms as a result of her TBI.