What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means living in the moment
- bringing gentle curiosity to your present experience
- mental training for wellbeing and resilience.
"I now meditate two or three times a week. Mindfulness is simply exercise for the mind, similar to the way we exercise our muscles when we play sports."
Bill Gates, Co-founder, Microsoft
What does it mean to be mindful?
Being mindful means simply noting what is arising, and as best we can, just letting it be. Mindfulness training teaches us how to reduce stress and manage panic attacks, as well as how to be happier and calmer in the ups and downs of life. Sometimes we miss present delights or make our difficulties harder as we become consumed with thoughts about the past or future. Mindfulness means we can notice our churning thoughts, and through letting go, find calm in the midst of life's challenges, and respond more effectively.
These include mindful breathing, mindful movement and different types of meditation. When we practise mindfulness, we practise accepting our present experience without trying to change it, remembering that acceptance precedes change. Our minds will wander, and our intention is to simply notice when this has happened, and then gently (and repeatedly), bring our minds back. When we notice our minds have wandered, we then have a choice, and with choice comes freedom. With self compassion we can choose to bring our attention back to the present.
We practise using our senses, and in particular breath and body sensations, as anchors to help you rest in the present moment, watching your thoughts and feelings come and go. Hence the phrase, '5 senses mindfulness'. By noticing your thoughts with a friendly curiosity, you can catch negative thought patterns before they cause you to spiral downwards. Being able to manage intrusive thoughts is one of the main benefits of meditation, and can save you from a great deal of stress and anxiety. As your mindfulness techniques develop, you'll discover you can remain detached from your thoughts. Being able to let go of something and let it be can transform your life.
“In the end, just three things matter:
how well we have lived,
how well we have loved,
how well we have learned to let go”
What is mindfulness meditation?
Meditation means using a technique, such as mindfulness, to focus our minds on a particular object, thought or activity, to be with our present moment experience. People often ask for a definition of mindfulness, what meditation is, or what is mindfulness versus meditation? Put simply, we practise meditation to help us achieve a mindful awareness.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training includes learning different types of meditation as well as mindfulness skills. All meditation is a form of mind training, and there are many reasons why meditation is so helpful.
There are two main types of meditation.
Formal meditation is when we take time to practise focusing on the breath, body sensations, sounds, thoughts or emotions. This type of meditation is where we develop mindfulness skills, such as bringing back our wandering minds, again and again.
We also use meditations or exercises which are not focused on our actual experience; these involve the imagination and creativity, such as a Mountain or Loving Kindness meditation, or developing a gratitude list. The more you practise formal meditations, the easier it is to bring mindful awareness to your daily life. You can listen to a variety of these on our Meditations page.
Informal meditation is when we might bring awareness to a daily activity, such as washing up, brushing our teeth, listening to music or being stuck in traffic! It can be any experience. We simply bring our awareness to our senses in that moment, allowing thoughts to come and go with acceptance.
When living in the moment, with self compassion and without judgement, you can find greater joy in life, as expressed in one of our Wellbeing Poems. You can read about other benefits of meditation that Catherine has found helpful in her mindfulness blog, 'This is It'.
Being kind to yourself
Learning how to be kinder to yourself, as well as others, is at the centre of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training, and this is sometimes referred to as heartfulness meditation. Looking after yourself and approaching challenges with self compassion makes a great difference, especially as we are often so self-critical. The Loving Kindness meditation is lovely to do last thing at night or if you're having difficulty sleeping.
There are additional benefits to mindfulness training besides relieving stress and anxiety, and learning how to be more relaxed; it can also simply enrich your daily life. When you live in the moment with curiosity, you're able to savour simple pleasures that you might otherwise miss: seeing birds flying in a pattern across a cloudy sky, the sound of children laughing, or birds, the smooth surface of a spoon – many pleasures are available when you pause and open your senses.
“The moment one gives close attention
even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious, awesome,
world in itself."
Research and mindfulness
There has been a great deal of research into mindfulness over the last twenty years. Thousands of peer-reviewed papers have been published with evidence that mindfulness leads to improved mental and physical wellbeing.
Anxiety, Stress and Depression
This study from the US National Library of Medicine provided evidence that mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood-problems.
It has been shown that mindfulness training can improve emotional reactions to pain. Chronic pain mindfulness trials carried out by the National Library of Medicine proved that mindfulness meditation helps people control an experience of pain, and thus improve their overall mental health.
To clarify a few myths about mindfulness
Mindfulness is a method of mind training for wellbeing and resilience - it's not religious and it's not Buddhism. Meditation techniques can take just a few minutes, but patience and persistence are needed for lasting effect. You do not need to sit cross-legged on the floor to meditate - there are many different meditation positions that can be used. For the MBSR classes, most people sit on a chair or lie down.
Mindfulness is about seeing the world with greater clarity. When we use the word ‘acceptance’, we don't mean accepting the unacceptable or resigning ourselves to situations we do not like. What we resist tends to persist. When you bring self-compassion and awareness to a difficult situation, you can make wiser, more considered decisions. By learning self help skills, you can look after yourself skilfully whatever the sitution.
Fortunately, the myths around mindfulness are starting to fade. More and more people are discovering the benefits of meditation - reduced anxiety, panic attacks and intrusive thoughts, increased self compassion and a greater appreciation for life.
Mindfulness is not a cure for everything
but for many people it's a major step towards
good mental health self-care.
If you'd like to learn more about how mindfulness training could help you,
or about our mindfulness classes, please get in touch.
Talks about meditation benefits