Mindfulness - What is it?
Mindfulness isn’t just the latest meditation fad taken up by celebrities; it’s a very old and very useful technique used to reduce everyday stress and help people cope with bad times in a more positive way. People all over the world find that mindfulness helps them root out the enjoyment in their lives and makes them more focused and aware of their actions and thoughts.
So what is mindfulness and what are the need-to-know techniques? In its most basic definition, mindfulness is about being aware of what you are doing while you’re doing it.
It involves developing the ability to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings and experiences and learning to tune into what’s going on in our mind and body. Being aware of our feelings is one thing; being able to tune into these feelings without judgement and self-criticism is quite another.
Maintaining an attitude of kindness towards ourselves is also crucial when practicing mindfulness, as is learning to be aware of what’s going on right here, right now. We might often not be aware of our thoughts but there’s no doubt they have a huge impact on our emotional and mental health and also on how we live our lives.
Being Mindful permeates everyday life. If you have co-workers follow some simple tips on how you can be mindful to your colleagues.
That’s why people find mindfulness so successful; it may sound obvious but being aware of the simplest things from breathing and talking to walking and eating means we’re not preoccupied with the past or with worries. Practicing mindfulness can help us with life’s struggles and therefore improve the quality of our life.
Two main approaches to mindfulness have been developed over the past few years. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are programmes that are rooted in Buddhist traditions. Health organisations stress that there are also lots of other ways to learn mindfulness including reading books on the subject, going on retreats or listening to CDs.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is an accessible group-based programme specifically for patients suffering from a range of physical and psychological problems that can’t necessarily be treated in a hospital. The programme involves intensive training in mindfulness meditation along with lots of conversation about stress and life skills. A combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness and yoga is used in the programme.
Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
An integration of MBSR with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), MBCT was developed to help people suffering from depression. Research has shown that MBCT teaches people to disengage from unhelpful, automatic cognitive patterns. When people are depressed, they quite often re-run negative thoughts; MBCT tries to change this and teach people to ‘shift mental gears’.
These programmes are taught by several groups and organisations in Ireland but as mentioned above, they’re not the only way to become ‘mindful’. Below are a few easy exercises that will put you on the right track towards mindfulness and its many advantages.
Some useful mindfulness exercises
- Get in tune with your senses. Notice the temperature of your skin and take notice of the noise around you.
- Be aware of your breathing and just notice that you are breathing in and out. If self-critical thoughts come to mind, just return to your breathing and focus on it.
- Choose a few things you do every day and decide that whenever you do them, that’s when you’ll practice mindfulness. Some examples might include taking a shower, making the dinner or doing the housework.
- Pay close attention to the next person you speak to. Listen closely to their words and take some time to think about what they’re saying. This helps to understand other people and limit your own judgement and criticisms.
Some mindfulness techniques can be employed several times a day while some, such as focused breathing, will require specific set time out of your day with no disruptions. If you’re interested in mindfulness, experts say the aim should be to practice every day for about six months. Over time, the art of mindfulness may become second nature and the benefits of practicing will be felt through all areas of life.