Mindfulness is a practice of retuning our attention to the present moment, free of judgement and with an attitude of self-compassion and kindness. Developing self-compassion enables us to feel more comfortable in our own skin and in the present moment. By nature our minds wander, either to the past or into the future. Habitual rumination over past events can lead us into depression, while too much thinking about future events can lead to anxiety and stress. Habitual day-dreaming and fantasising to avoid how we are feeling in the moment, can lead to an inability to move forward with our lives. Learning to gently return our attention to the present moment teaches us to actively take time out to be present to our self with acceptance.
Mindfulness practices originate from ancient Buddhist traditions. Mindfulness as we know it today was pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn who developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Since then, numerous scientific research studies have confirmed the physical, emotional and mental health benefits of mindfulness practices. Mindfulness programs have proven to be effective in helping people to better manage chronic pain, reduce stress, anxiety and depression, improve physical and mental performance, and to generally experience a more aware, healthier, happier life.
How it works
It is generally accepted that what we focus on grows. Instead of focussing our attention on events in the past or things that may or may not happen, mindfulness cultivates a habit of bringing our attention to the experience of what is happening now. The less distracted we are, the more fully we experience whatever is happening within us and around us. Sometimes mindfulness occurs naturally when we are fully engaged in a task, new experience or when we are awestruck. However for most of us, these moments do not occur daily.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
You can choose to practice mindfulness anywhere, in as small an amount of time as one minute and benefit from it. There are many levels and practices; a simple method is that of bringing your attention to your breathing, thoughts will naturally arise, but instead of engaging with your thoughts simply label them as ‘thinking’ and return your attention to your breath. This simple practice is one I engage in throughout my day and does, I believe, deepen longer engagements of practice. It is also a simple method of returning your mind to the present whenever you find it has wandered or as a simple means of correcting negative thought patterns.
Give it a try.
Use it to ground yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed or notice that you are mindlessly on auto-pilot. Use it as a means of creating a pause in stressful situations. Instead of refuelling old resentments bring your attention to your breathing and the world as it is right now. Instead of worrying about something that may or may not happen, return to your breath, bring your attention to your posture and what you can do in the present.
Mindfulness can help us to foster:
- Acceptance of our self, others, situations and our environment.
- Self-compassion and empathy with others through understanding rather than criticism.
- Discernment: accept the things we cannot change and change the things we can.
The practice of mindfulness has been shown to strengthen immunity, alleviate physical pain and assist with obesity. Practices vary for different conditions. As mindfulness gains acceptance in the medical, educational, governmental and wider societal communities it is important to note that it is not a cure-all. Nor is it suitable for all conditions.
In my own practice I teach it to help reduce stress and anxiety, reduce weight, strengthen the mind/body connection, manage pain and improve mental clarity and well-being. If you would like to learn more please contact me.