Have you ever driven somewhere and forgotten how you got from A to B? Have you eaten a meal and realised that you didn’t actually taste any of it?
These are signs that you have been on autopilot mode. You have not been paying attention and this where mindfulness comes in…
Mindfulness has been rising in popularity.
There are a plethora of books, magazines, courses, apps and websites on the subject.
It is also being adopted in healthcare and has been added to the NHS list of ‘5 Steps to Mental Wellbeing.’
What is Mindfulness?
Here are some key definitions of mindfulness, which explain what it is in a nutshell:
- “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (Leading mindfulness teacher and practitioner)
- “Knowing what is happening while it is happening, without preference.” – Mindfulness Association UK
- “In mindfulness, one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion, it is a serene encounter with reality” Thich Nhat Hanh (Mindfulness teacher)
Mindfulness, in its essence, is the practice of awareness and it can be practised by anyone, anytime and anywhere.
Why Practice Mindfulness? What’s the Big Deal?
There are many benefits to learning mindfulness, it can people help to:
- reduce stress at home and in the workplace
- become more present and aware in everyday routines
- become more focused and have better concentration
- cultivate compassion and kindness
- manage pain and health problems
- cultivate gratitude by appreciating the things good things in life
- become more resilient by learning to respond rather than react to situations.
This list could go on but it gives an idea of the many ways in which mindfulness practice can have positive outcomes.
On the benefits of mindfulness, Sanjit Sahota, a West Midlands based business trainer and mindfulness teacher says:
“Having a daily mindfulness practice has enriched my life.
“I began practising to tame my overthinking mind and enjoy being in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or worrying about the future.
“In time, I noticed how paying mindful attention had made me more appreciative of people, food, nature and having a body that works.
“Most importantly, it has taught me how to extend kindness and compassion towards myself and others during difficult times.”
In today’s world, people are all too focused on their bodies and physical aspects.
They want to be healthier and slimmer and more attractive. There is an overemphasis on external bodily health and appearance.
But what about the mind?
The mind is just as important – if not more important – to our overall wellbeing.
There has been so much in the news about the mental health crisis in the UK and the lack of access to mental health services.
There is clearly a problem and people are experiencing increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
Practising mindfulness can help a person gain back some control over their state of mind.
It’s not a solution or a miracle cure, but it can help with the daily stresses and strains of modern life.
It can also help people to enjoy life in a much more meaningful way.
Watching without Judging
A key characteristic of mindfulness is that people become fully aware of their present moment experience.
A common human trait is to focus heavily on the past or think about the future. They miss out on what is actually happening right now.
Focus on present moment experience without judging it is also vital.
Mindfulness teaches people to accept what is happening, or what they are feeling without labelling it as good or bad; it just… ‘is’.
This should not be mistaken for being passive.
It is only when people accept what is happening in the present that they can pause and take appropriate action.
Being mindful means observing.
A person is encouraged to watch what is happening around and inside them.
It is learning not to get too involved with thoughts, feelings and emotions and understanding that these will eventually pass.
Attitude of Gratitude
Mindfulness practice also encourages developing compassion for oneself and others.
Also, gratitude is cultivated by being mindful of the good things in life, however small, and fully appreciating them.
Such thinking rewires the human mind to focus more on positive aspects rather than the negative.
How to Practise Mindfulness
There are many ways of practising mindfulness. There are formal and informal methods of meditation.
A well-known formal method is to have a daily meditation routine.
This means setting time aside to sit down in a quiet place and to meditate by focusing on the breath.
Sounds easy? Try it now for five minutes:
- Find a comfortable place to sit with a straight back, either on a chair on the floor on a cushion
- Place your hands in your lap or have palms facing down on the thighs/knees
- Start focusing on the in-breath and out-breath only, either at the tip of the nose or in the chest or belly area, wherever you feel it most
- As you breathe in, count 1, as you breathe out count 2; continue like this for ten breaths
- Do not try to clear the mind of thoughts (a common misconception), simply let thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations come and go, and keep the primary focus on the breath while
- Everything else happens in the background
- If you get distracted, start it again
- Continue for about 5 minutes and come to a close
How long was it before the mind became distracted and thoughts of the past or the future came up?
How soon before the mind became engaged in an internal dialogue?
It’s not as easy as it sounds but practising like this helps people to realise just how busy their minds are!
By doing simple breath meditation for about ten minutes a day, the mind will eventually become more focused on the breath and less so on mental activity.
Mindfulness is not about becoming more relaxed; it is not a relaxation technique.
The objective is to become more present and aware.
But relaxation may occur as a result of mindfulness and that is absolutely fine.
Informal practices include mindful walking, showering, listening, eating or doing a body scan.
In fact, mindfulness can be practised when doing absolutely anything throughout the day.
The key is to open the senses and to be aware of what is happening in the present moment.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Mindfulness theory and practice go much deeper.
Mindfulness is a huge topic but can have life-changing and life-enhancing results.
Take the plunge and research mindfulness further, attend a course or download an app, buy or borrow a mindfulness book.
See how it goes, one mindful step at a time…