What is Mindfulness?
There are so many definitions of mindfulness around these days that it can sometimes become overwhelming when looking up this topic for the first time. In a nutshell, the way I would define mindfulness (based on the definition given by the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme, Jon Kabat-Zinn) is ‘the practice of fully showing up in our live in the present moment; learning to put our full attention on ourselves and the world around us, and accepting what we find there without judgement.’
Formal mindfulness meditations
Mindfulness can be practised by sitting for a formal meditation and also by carrying out mindful activities. The formal mindfulness meditation practice is actually an ancient Buddhist meditation technique and has been around for thousands of years. The practice generally involves focusing on our breath as an anchor into the present moment. The aim of the meditation is to simply notice that the mind has wandered, watch our thoughts with mindful curiosity and without judgement, all the while aiming to keep bringing our attention back to the anchor point of the meditation and the present moment; the breath. This practice helps us to realise that by giving less weight to our thoughts and also not trying to push them away, they ultimately have less effect on us.
Another formal mindfulness meditation involves putting our full attention into our body and noticing the sensation which we can feel, without trying to change these sensations or push them away. This method is a well-established technique to helpsufferers of chronic pain as, similar to our thoughts, accepting the sensations as they are and not trying to push them away, gives the pain less weight which means it has less effect on us.
One of the most profound effect of these formal practices is that we become more aware of ourselves; we notice the thoughts that we have in our head, we become more aware of our emotions and more aware our bodies and learn to appreciate ourselves as we are.
Mindfulness in everyday life
In addition to formal meditation practices, there are ways to develop a ‘mindful attitude’ to life, which simply means putting all of our awareness on the task at hand; using all of our senses whilst carrying out a task, so we keep our focus. This helps us to stop walking around on auto-pilot, constantly caught up in the thoughts in our head. One example I tend to use with my clients is this… Have you ever driven your car from one place to another, and on reaching your final destination you have no idea how you got there? Yes?… Me too! This is our brain being mind-less; so caught up in our thoughts that we are not taking in what’s going on around us. Without getting too scientific (I will detail the neuroscience behind a mindfulness practice in a later blog), the complexity of our brains means that we are able to safely carry out the task of driving, whilst having our main focus on our thoughts. However, by staying in our heads, fully engrossed in our thoughts, we never fully appreciate the variety of life; we may miss the beautiful scenery all around us during our drive which may instantly improve our mood. Practicing mindfulness helps us to change this mind-less way of living, so that we can appreciate the world around us, develop more compassion and joy for life and other people and also be more productive as we can learn to put all of our energy on the task at hand.
The benefits of mindfulness
Many social, psychological and scientific studies have been conducted in recent years, to prove how meditation and specifically mindfulness meditation alters the brain’s neural pathways and recording the many benefits that we can achieve from the practice. I will go into further detail surrounding the scientific elements and changes in neural pathways in a later blog, however, for now, a few of the many documented and proven benefits to our health and well-being are listed below:
- Stress reduction
- Anxiety reduction
- Reduction in feelings of fatigue
- Improved memory
- Improved concentration
- Improved productivity
- Improved emotional resilience
- Improved relationships
Your brain is a muscle and so, like the other muscle in your body, it needs to be trained in order to grow and change. This is why you need to be committed to a mindfulness practice in order to fully benefit. You may not feel that you have the time to fit it into your busy life, however, the more you practice, the more time you will have. Mindfulness essentially becomes a way of life if we learn to practice regularly. A way of life that makes everything more vibrant and interesting and which we can approach with a calmer attitude.