Mindfulness is one of the latest buzzwords but what does it mean? Let’s start with a definition:
Mindfulness – a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Jon Kabat-Zinn who wrote the bestselling book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ speaks here briefly about his concept of Mindfulness:
Inner Calm and Present Moment
The aim of mindfulness is to bring us into the present moment, away from anxieties of the future or concerns from the past which cause us anxiety and stress. A Mindfulness practice will bring us to a calm state where we can get in touch with our own innate sense of wellbeing, which we all have within us. That innate sense of wellbeing is one of happiness, calmness and contentment.
These techniques help us find an inner spaciousness where we can hear the still, small voice of our own natural guidance within.
Our world is getting ever busier with 24/7 connection to anywhere and everywhere. There is no downtime for many of us electronically or mentally with a constant internal chatter about one thing or another. Even when you think you are relaxing and having fun, the monkey mind chatter continues. This relentless diatribe of thoughts can take us on a roller-coaster of emotions and if nothing else, can be exhausting. Mindfulness is a technique to help us see this monkey mind for what it is – a well spring of endless thoughts which we can either pay attention to, or not
Mental and Physical Practice
Mindfulness is not just a mental practice but a physical one too. It is about quietening the mind and strengthening the body. There are no hard and fast rules and the important thing is to integrate our practice into our daily lives so that we are more likely to continue:
The Mind – there are many different ways to do this. Some mindfulness students prefer short bursts of time out on an hourly basis, whereas others favour a longer morning or evening meditation. Here are some of the types of practice:
- Body Scan – a classic mindfulness practice is the body scan where you sit or lie comfortably and bring your mind’s attention to every part of your body. Focussing and then releasing.
- Guided Meditation – there are many downloadable apps or CDs for guided meditations of various lengths from three minutes to one hour.
- Sitting Meditation – this can be done in silence or to gentle relaxing music. You simply sit and focus on your breathing or where your body touches the chair to bring your mind to the present. Every time your thoughts wander, you bring your focus back to the present.
- Walking Meditation – similar to a sitting meditation but with slow movement. The aim is to keep your focus in the present.
The Physical – strengthening our bodies is another way to support a Mindfulness practice. Whole body spiritual practices such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong and pilates are ideal as they strengthen the core muscles and promote mental calmness and relaxation.
What Conditions are Helped?
Rather than look at a long list of conditions which can be helped, it is perhaps more relevant to say that a regular Mindfulness practice strengthens us and so makes us better able to adapt to life and the stresses of living in the 21st Century. It makes us stronger and we are then better able deal with pain, mental issues such as anxiety, physical ailments and even chronic and serious conditions.
Does it Work?
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence on the internet by the rich and famous citing health improvements from a regular practice of Mindfulness. This Polly Vernon article in The Telegraph is a few years old but provides a light-hearted overview. Interestingly, she was very sceptical but has been convinced once she took up a Mindfulness practice herself.
There is a wealth of scientific data showing that Mindfulness is more likely to help many conditions from anxiety to chronic pain and unlikely to hinder. It is also recommended by the UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence in the treatment of depression and pain management.
‘Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World’ by Mark Williams & Dr Danny Penman (£7 upwards including guided meditation CDs) – Simple guidance on how to set up and stick to a powerful Mindfulness practice.
‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn (£17 upwards including meditation and yoga CDs) – a bit of a tome but a good definitive guide and lots in there about working with pain and other physical symptoms.
Headspace App – guided meditations for use on your phone, tablet or computer available through Google Play.
Join a local yoga, tai chi or pilates class.