What is Mindfulness?Scroll Down
Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences. It involves paying attention to our thoughts and feelings so we become more aware of them, less enmeshed in them, and better able to manage them. –UK Mental Health Foundation – Mindfulness Report
Turning towards our internal states in this may not make immediate sense, given that most of us prefer to avoid painful experiences. But choosing to approach, rather than avoid our experience under difficulty can radically alter our experience. By simply becoming aware of our automatic thoughts and (often) unconscious behaviours we create a fresh, allowing perspective which can improve our tolerance of things, rather than making things worse. Mindfulness teaches us to see our inner and outer experience of the world with increased clarity, and from this we learn how to respond rather than react to life’s challenges
Waking up to the present moment:
It is often said that in modern life, we live in a permanent state of distraction, minds elsewhere as we go about out business. Mindfulness is actually the opposite of the distracted state. Jon Kabat-Zin who pioneered the secular Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, describes mindfulness as
“Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non judgementally”. So it is something that you deliberately practice; training the ‘muscle’ of awareness on the present moment, with the lens of a friendly and interested attitude – to each moment as it unfolds. The more we practice being aware in this way, the more calmness, steadiness and ease are available to us in daily life.
Is it new?
The art and science of paying attention to our conscious experience in this way has been understood for thousands of years by the ancient traditions. In fact, mindfulness is an inherent human quality of calm, heartfulness and engagement that we all experience from time to time – perhaps in nature, with music, with each other…it tends to get covered up over time as our lives and minds ‘busy up’, and we’re less connected, engaged and interested than we might be. Becoming more mindful can be enhanced with intention and training.
How do you learn mindfulness?
It’s a bit like learning to swim. You can read about ‘swimming’ in books and have a good cognitive understanding of it, but you can’t really learn how to swim unless you get in the water. And you are best taught by someone who not only knows how to swim but how to teach swimming. Mindfulness is the same. You actually need to immerse in the practice itself to really experience it, learn it and understand it.
Learning mindfulness involves practicing a range of specific meditation exercises. It’s a bit like learning a musical instrument – once you get the basics sorted, mastery comes from repetition! Evidence shows that practicing in this way literally lays down new neural pathways in the brain, supporting new ‘habits of mind’. Participants of mindfulness training programs consistently rate the immersion and repetition of the practices as having the most value in cultivating the skills of mindfulness.
Many benefits are enjoyed by those practicing mindfulness including:
- A greater capacity to relax and tolerate stressful situations, even those that don’t go away
- Greater focus and concentration
- Self-mastery in managing unruly emotional states
- Improvements in physical health and wellbeing, including an increased capacity to tolerate chronic pain
- Increased optimism and a greater energy and enthusiasm for life, and an enrichment of everyday moments
- Greater self awareness and capacity to respond rather than react to life’s challenges
Mindfulness is a way of learning to relate directly to whatever is happening in your life, mastering your own responses in any situation. It is a gift to be able to give yourself – more resilience and flexibility, and ultimately more freedom.