What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about living more fully in the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It involves learning to pay attention, on purpose, to what is happening 'right now' and cultivating the qualities of curiosity, compassion and acceptance. It has been incorporated into a number of approaches rooted in the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These newer forms of  CBT have been referred to 'Third Wave' therapies and include; Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Compassion Focused Therapy, Mindfulness-based CBT and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. A growing body of research evidence shows that regular mindfulness practice can have a positive impact on overall levels of health, wellbeing and happiness.

What happens in mindfulness?

Mindfulness a form of 'mind training' that is characterised by:

  • Paying attention - developing awareness of where our attention is and learning to focus our attention where we want it to be
  • Acceptance- learning to accept ourselves and experience (i.e. thoughts, feelings, sensations) as it is, in the present moment, rather than constantly struggling against it. This does not mean resignation or giving up
  • Non-reactivity - instead of reacting to something, we learn to pause and respondwith more intentional and considered actions
  • Non-judgement - we constantly make judgements about our experience (e.g. good/bad, wanted/unwanted). Learning to notice and let go of judgements means we don't make things worse for ourselves. Instead, we try to bring the qualities of understanding, kindness and compassion to our experience
  • Approaching- it is natural to want to avoid unwanted thoughts, feelings and sensations. But the more we avoid such experiences the more power we unwittingly give away to them. Cultivating curiosity and openness to things we tend to avoid allows us to learn to acknowledge and 'make room' for our fears which helps to dissolve their power.

Keep in mind that mindfulness is not necessarily about relaxation, trying to empty your mind of thoughts, making yourself feel better or a way of distracting yourself from unwanted experiences. It is not a quick fix for our problems, but a practice that can enhance our capacity to live happier and more fulfilled lives.

Is mindfulness right for me?

Mindfulness can be learned by anyone regardless of their background and can enhance our capacity to live more meaningful and peaceful lives. Mindfulness can be practiced in two different and complementary ways.  The first way involves formal meditation where you set aside time each day to practice mindfulness. The second, informal, way involves being mindful as you go about your day-to-day tasks - cooking, washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, walking, driving and so on.

Whether you are engaged in formal or informal mindfulness meditation you will encounter your wandering mind. This is normal, the practice is about noticing where your mind has wandered to and gently guiding it back to where you want it to be. So if would like to learn how to slow down, be present and learn to learn to cope with whatever life throws at you then regular mindfulness practice could help you get there.

Recommended reading

Williams, M, Penman, D. ( 2011) Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. London: Piatkus.

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