What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means living in the moment
Definition of Mindfulness:
Paying attention to the present moment,
on purpose and without judgement
What does it mean to be mindful?
Being mindful means simply bringing a friendly curiosity to our experience. Just noting what is arising, without naming it as good or bad - just letting it be. This can help us learn how to reduce stress and manage panic attacks, as well as how to be happier and calmer with 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.
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. Developing mindfulness skills is exercise for the brain. When we notice our minds have wandered, we then have a moment of choice; with self compassion we can choose to bring our attention back to the present. With choice comes freedom.
We practise using our senses, and in particular breath and body sensations, as anchors to help us rest in the present moment, watching our thoughts and feelings come and go. Hence the phrase, '5 senses mindfulness'. By noticing our thoughts with a friendly curiosity, we can catch negative thought patterns before they cause us to spiral downwards. Being able to manage intrusive thoughts is one of the main benefits of meditation, and is a significant aspect of taking care of yourself, saving 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.
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 reason why meditation is good for you.
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. 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.
There are mind and health benefits from meditation, whichever type you do. The more we practise formal meditations, the easier it is to bring mindful awareness to our daily lives. When living in the moment, with self compassion and without judgement, we 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'.
“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”
Loving Kindness and Joy
There are additional advantages of meditation besides helping us reduce stress and anxiety, and learn how to be more relaxed; it can also enrich our day to day lives, and help us bring a fresh mind to our lives. When we live in the moment with curiosity, we're able to savour the simple pleasures that we might otherwise miss: seeing birds flying in a pattern across a cloudy sky, warm hands, the smooth surface of a spoon – so many riches when we pause and open our senses.
What is Heartfulness Meditation? Learning how to be kinder to ourselves as well as others is at the centre of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training. Looking after yourself, bringing self-care to your mental health and approaching challenges with self compassion makes a great difference when we are often our harshest critics. If we seem to be never satisfied, we can learn how to care for ourselves more effectively. The Loving Kindness meditation is lovely to do last thing at night or if you are having difficulty sleeping.
“The moment one gives close attention
even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious, awesome,
world in itself."
To clarify a few myths about mindfulness
Mindfulness is a method of mind training - 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. One does 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 we bring self-compassion and awareness to a difficult situation, we can make wiser, more considered decisions. By learning self help skills, you can look after yourself skilfully whatever the sitution.
Luckily, 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
mental health self-care, and healthy hearts and minds.