What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an innate human capacity to deliberately pay full attention to where we are, to our actual experience, and to learn from it”    Jack Kornfield

Mindfulness is about awareness, care and choice. It’s paying attention to what’s happening right now, with an open mind, curiosity and kindness, enabling us to see more clearly and respond more skilfully. It can help us see things as they are – rather than as we hope or fear they might be. Connecting with the here and now, with friendly interest, can help us feel calmer, think clearly and respond wisely, even in challenging situations.

Listening to body and mind, developing curiosity and recognising needs and values helps us be with the full range of human experience. Responding kindly and skilfully to ourselves and others enhances wellbeing, resilience, communication, and effectiveness.

  • Mindfulness isn’t stopping what we’re doing, it’s knowing what we’re doing.
  • It’s stepping out of the mode of driven ‘doing’ into ‘being’, creating a space where we can pause and see what’s here.
  • Mindfulness is connecting with the reality of the present moment and choosing how we respond, rather than being at the mercy of the reactive “automatic pilot” or our thoughts, which may repeatedly take us into the past (ruminating on what has happened) or into the future (driving us incessantly from one task to another and presenting us with worst-case scenarios). It’s not about suppressing thoughts, rather becoming aware of them and developing the ability to untangle ourselves from them.
  • It’s seeing things clearly, empowering us to make active and appropriate choices in accordance with our values.
  • It’s developing skills to enable us to consciously and systematically work with the challenges and demands of everyday life and with stress, pain, or illness.
  • It’s a way of being which can enable us to engage with our experience, pleasant and unpleasant and live more fully.

“… a way of being in wise and purposeful relationship with one’ s experience both inwardly and outwardly. It is cultivated by systematically exercising one’ s capacity for paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, and by learning to inhabit and make use of the clarity, discernment, ethical understanding, and awareness that arises from tapping into one’s own deep and innate interior resources for learning, growing, healing and transformation, available to us across the lifespan by virtue of being human.” Jon Kabat Zinn

How do we do it?

  • We grow mindful by practising a moment to moment awareness: tuning into our direct sensory experience: the sense of touch, body sensations such as the contact of the feet on the floor, the breath, what we can hear and other experiences as they are happening. The practice involves observing these experiences as they are, without judging or changing them; training our attention to stay where we intend it to be and resetting this intention to pay attention again and again, with patience and with kindness.
  • The attitudes that we cultivate are key, they make the difference between mindful awareness and simply paying attention. Tara Brach uses the metaphor of mindfulness being like a bird with two wings, awareness – clear seeing – and compassion – the capacity to relate to our experience with empathy and tenderness.

How can Mindfulness help?

  • Cultivating mindfulness can lead to growth in: flexibility, well being, relationships,  communication, health, resilience, confidence and performance.
  • The skills and a clearer understanding of the nature of the mind can help us let go of unhelpful thinking patterns and take a broader perspective.
  • It can help us tap into existing internal resources and, through regular practice, find calm, clarity, stability and strength.
  • It can help us appreciate the moment and savour the positive.
  • Practising mindfulness does not end difficulty, illness or pain, but it can help us change our relationship with them.
  • We can use it to take care of ourselves, especially when we are under pressure.
  • It can help us nurture compassion for ourselves and the world around us.
  • It can enable us to move through life with greater ease and equanimity.

The Neuroscience

  • There is scientific evidence that regular mindfulness practice results in measurable changes to the brain associated with improved ability to regulate attention, emotion and actions, better mood and resilience.
  • Regular practice has been demonstrated to increase working memory capacity, important for decision making.
  • The changes support greater insight into ourselves and others, helping in relationships.
  • Regular practice also appears to strengthen the immune systerm, and has been associated with faster recovery from illness and wounds and reduced inflammation in the body.
  • Changes have been seen in intervention studies even after the 8-week course.

Who can benefit?

  • Mindfulness is suitable for many people and people of all ages report positive results after taking a course.
  • In the workplace it can improve health and well-being.
  • In schools it can enhance well-being and learning with children and health and effectiveness in teaching.
  • In sports and other skills training it can improve performance.
  • In personal and professional life it can help with communication and relationships.
  • It is known to help reduce stress, recurrent depression, anxiety and chronic pain. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence and GPs are increasingly referring adults to 8-week courses.

Is mindfulness appropriate for you at this time?

  • It is important to take care of yourself and make the right choice for you. Occasionally that choice might be not to practise mindfulness.
  • While choosing to be present and tuning into our experience may be supportive – enabling us to find a steady place and have greater choice in how we respond – there are times when it is not appropriate to practice mindfulness, especially for the first time. 
  • If you have an existing mental health condition and are already under the care of a medical professional then please, first, discuss with them whether now is the right time for you to be practising mindfulness and what setting would be most appropriate for you to do so. 
  • If you are currently suffering from severe periods of anxiety or depression, experiencing hypermania or psychotic episodes, have had a recent bereavement, trauma or loss, or are in the midst of substance abuse then mindfulness is not appropriate for you at this time. 
  • This does not mean it will never be possible to practice mindfulness. It it is important to speak to an experienced mental health professional who understands both your condition and mindfulness so you can explore together a time, context and specific approach that might be appropriate for you.
  • If you are experiencing any physical health issues please speak to your GP, physiotherapist or other appropriate health professional before beginning a movement practice, so you can decide together what is best for you.

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