What is Mindfulness?
Put simply, Professor Mark Williams from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre says that it is being aware of what is going on in our lives and inside our bodies from moment to moment. It has recently become an international trend in mental health and wellbeing but has been a part of Buddhist, Muslim and Christian meditation for thousands of years. Jon Kabat- Zinn, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts, has extensively researched mindfulness for pain and stress with impressive results. So much so, that Kabat -Zinn has received numerous awards and accolades for his work and in the UK, mindfulness has been endorsed by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (N.I.C.E) for treating depression.
How does Mindfulness Work?
Our thoughts are usually constant and go from one topic to another. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment. There are a range of techniques you can use throughout the day such as a 10 minute body scan or doing one small task mindfully like mindful eating or driving. An important part of mindfulness is to treat yourself with compassion and kindness. Treating ourselves in this way makes us feel less threatened and reduces the “what if” danger thoughts that go with it.
What should I expect from Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is not about getting rid of stressors to live in zen of calm, nor is it about stopping your thoughts and blanking out your mind. On the contrary, it is about managing thoughts, fears and worries and being able to live with them so they’re not all consuming. Through everyday practice you can be more in tune with your body and therefore look after yourself better when you don’t feel so good. By being aware of the present moment, you can note and appreciate the kind things people say and the positive things in your life. You are more likely to be positive to other people too. This can start a circle of kindness and happiness positivity and wellbeing. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Although the idea of paying attention to a moment in time is really easy, the practice can be more difficult, especially if you have a busy brain. The techniques take a fair bit of practice, so perseverance is key, without any expectation of results. Mindfulness can feel pointless and even boring at times but it takes a while for your brain to rewire before you see the benefits. A good way to start is by paying attention to your breathing for short periods of time such as 5 or 10 minutes twice a day. Even in that time your mind will start to wander off. The important part of this is to notice and to gently bring yourself back to the current moment.
How do I start Mindfulness?
There are many courses that offer mindfulness for beginners and they can support you, encourage you and answer any questions you may have. This is probably the best way to begin because you would be more likely to continue practicing for a long time compared to doing it on your own. However, courses can be expensive. Your local library or community centre or even GP may have information on where local courses are. There are also lots of resources available via the internet or apps with audio recordings you can listen to as a guide. If you are having CBT therapy, your therapist may recommend mindfulness as part of treatment.
If you are unsure of whether mindfulness would benefit you, have a chat with your GP or visit the NHS choices website.