What is mindfulness anyway?
Mindfulness is a real buzz word in psychology at the moment. While it might be relatively new to Western psychology, mindfulness actually has ancient roots in a wide range of Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga.
Many people think mindfulness means meditation, but this isn’t true, Mindfulness is actually a mental state of openness, awareness and focus. It involves consciously bringing our awareness to our here-and-now experiences with openness and non-judgement. Meditation is just one way that we might practice this state.
Children are often great at mindfulness. When we walk into our backyard as adults, we might be struck by a sudden need to get out the lawnmower, water our drooping plants, or get onto Google to see about finishing off those renovations. When a child walks into a back garden, they are easily swept up in noticing (non-judgmentally!) what they can see around them: colourful leaves, strange bugs, the movement of the trees, the feeling of the grass. Practicing mindfulness is about reconnecting with this ability to be engaged with the present moment.
Research has shown that mindfulness can:
- Reduce stress and improve immunity
- Enhance self-awareness
- Bolster memory and focus
- Improve our relationships
- Boost emotional intelligence
- Help us to deal with destructive feelings, thoughts and behaviours
Practice, practice, practice
If you’ve given mindfulness a go, you might have found that it is pretty difficult. The aim of mindfulness isn’t to relax (although that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with relaxing!) Mindfulness is a cognitive exercise and it takes some practice. If you are eager to give it a try, here are some suggestions on how to get started:
- The first thing to understand is that it doesn’t matter what you are focusing your attention on when practising mindfulness, as long as it is occurring in the here-and-now. The practice of mindfulness is really about switching your attention to something (anything) occurring in the present moment. Perhaps you can start with an everyday task that you currently do on auto-pilot and experiment with doing this more mindfully. Try to tune into how your five sense are being activated in the activity and be aware of your moment-to-moment experiences. For example, you might try:
- Mindful walking
- Mindful showering
- Mindful eating
- Mindful teeth brushing
- Mindful drawing/colouring
- Mindful playing (if you have kids handy)
- Just like any other form of training, start small and try to build up over time. You might start your mindfulness practice with just one minute per day. As you become more comfortable with the process, you can slowly increase this.
- Also like other forms of training, a major barrier to practising mindfulness is finding time for it! It can help to have a set time of day to practice mindfulness. Some people also set an alarm for themselves to prompt them to stop what they are doing briefly and focus on tuning into their present-moment experiences. Even small pauses during the day to practice mindful awareness are very useful. It all adds up!
- There are some wonderful phone apps and guided mindfulness mediation exercises available online. Check out these free guided mindfulness exercises: http://www.freemindfulness.org/download