What does Mindfulness mean?
Mindfulness is the focussing of one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. I like to think of mindfulness practice as a workout for the mind, just as going to the gym is a workout for the body.
How can Mindfulness help me?
Practicing mindfulness can give you a deeper insight into your thoughts, feelings and emotions and how they all interact. It can help boost attention and concentration, increase productivity and enhance creativity. In a therapeutic setting it is used to help people with stress, anxiety, recurrent depression and chronic pain as part of the MBSR and MBCT programmes. Further research has show mindfulness has positive effects on various other conditions such as addiction, eating disorders and grief.
How long does it take to get results?
As with physical exercise you need to ‘put the time in’ to reap the benefits. Starting with ten minutes of mindfulness practice a day can make a real difference and start you on your journey.
How to practice Mindfulness?
You can begin to practice mindfulness by bringing attention to simple everyday activities. For example, start by drinking a cup of tea or coffee mindfully, feeling the warmth of the cup, really experiencing the taste and aromas, paying attention to each sip and the sensations in the mouth as you drink. As soon as your mind starts to wander away from the focus of drinking to perhaps what you have to do later in the day, or something somebody said to you yesterday, gently bring your attention back to drinking, back to the present moment, the only moment we actually have.
Another mindfulness practice you can try is to sit and focus on your breath, a technique that is taught across all mindfulness programmes. In a similar way to the mindful drinking exercise above we focus our attention on the breath as it moves in and out of the body. Again, sooner or later the mind will wander away from the focus on the breath to thoughts, planning and daydreaming. When you discover the mind is no longer with the breath gently and kindly reconnect with the breath as the focus of your attention.
I recorded this mindfulness meditation exercise - 'A Short Meditation On The Breath' for anyone who would like to experience a more ‘formal’ practice.
Where can I practice Mindfulness?
You don't need a special place to practice mindfulness. When you are taking formal meditations like the body scan or longer guided sitting meditations you might prefer to find a quiet space to do so. However, you can practice whilst on the bus with headphones, or perhaps, one of my favourites, doing a sounds meditation in the park. In addition, informal mindfulness practices such as mindful eating and walking can be woven into your daily routines.
Are Mindfulness and Yoga similar?
Mindfulness and Yoga are intrinsically linked as they both involve an awareness of the body . Yoga can be thought of as mindful movement through a sequence of postures and poses whilst focussing on the breath as an anchor at times when the mind wanders to thoughts like fatigue or frustration. Yoga is bathed in philosophy and a gentle version of it forms an important part of both the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programmes.
Is Mindfulness a religion?
Mindfulness is not a religion. Its roots are in various religious and spiritual traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism however the western therapeutic and scientific approach is secular.
Why can’t I stop my mind wandering?
A common misconception people have about mindfulness meditation is that the desired outcome is to 'clear’ the mind of thoughts. During any meditation sitting, eg. the ‘Short Meditation On The Breath’ above, sooner or later you will find your mind wanders away from the focus of the breath and becomes consumed in future events or maybe recalling past events and getting carried away by memories and feelings about the past. Mindfulness meditation is not about stopping your mind from wandering, because that’s what minds do, but when you notice it has wandered, simply and affectionately noting what’s on your mind in that moment and bringing your attention back to the breath. If the mind wanders 100 times, the task is to simply bring the focus of your attention back to the breath 100 times. Gently, kindly and compassionately and in no way criticising or judging yourself.
Alexander James is a Mindfulness-Based Therapist and Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist helping clients overcome addictions, stress, anxiety and depression.