Mindfulness is something we are hearing more and more about; it’s been cropping up in all sorts of different places. I even saw a piece on BBC news about it recently! But I still hear the question “What is Mindfulness” a fair bit, so for those of you wondering, here it is.
If you’re familiar with meditation practices, you may already be aware of Mindfulness and be using it as part of your daily routine. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mindfulness and the benefits its practice can offer you, please read on.
Mindfulness isn’t just about meditation or relapse prevention, we can all benefit from adding a little Mindfulness into our daily routines. You can apply mindfulness into many aspects of your daily life.
So, what is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s description of mindfulness goes like this:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally”
That sums it up quite well, however I’ll expand on that a little for you.
Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhist philosophy; however, it’s not a religion, nor is any religious belief necessary to practice it.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine, initially developed a mindfulness program to help people suffering from chronic pain and cancer, but later realised many more people could benefit from it.
After some research, he later incorporated mindfulness with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), meditation and some simple yoga techniques and mindfulness instruction, in its current form, was born.
How Can Mindfulness Benefit Me?
We all spend far too much time focusing on either the past or the future, and don’t give enough focus to the present. Meaning that for the majority of our time we may be unaware of a lot of our experience in the here and now.
Mindfulness ensures we appreciate the here and now, and allows us to be more in ‘the moment’ and present with ourselves and our environment. It teaches us to accept ourselves and our environment for what it is at that moment, without the need to change it, accepting ‘what is’.
When we are mindful about the present we are spending less time thinking about the past and/or future. It can offer you the opportunity of observation of thoughts, emotions and feelings from a distance. This in turn can help you gain perspective and insight into your daily life.
Putting Mindfulness into Practice
You may have heard of the raisin exercise, here is a great little video by Bob Stahl to walk you through it, go on grab a raisin, or any other small edible object, and join him for 5 minutes of mindfulness.
This exercise allows you the opportunity to explore mindful attention based on your own experience. You’ve more than likely eaten a raisin hundreds of times in your life without much, or any awareness.
You may discover that you have never ‘really tasted’ a raisin like this before, or observed the distinct nuances associated with its texture, smell or taste.
You might become aware that you usually just grab a handful of raisins and put them in your mouth without much thought, whatever you feel, think or experience is fine, you’re being mindful.
This act, of slowing down and paying close attention to the many thoughts, sensations or even emotions which are involved in this simple exercise highlights how we are usually on automatic pilot in our daily lives.
How many other tasks or acts do you complete daily, on automatic pilot? You can practice mindfulness with pretty much anything, washing the dishes, brushing your teeth or driving to work.
Being mindful doesn’t mean that you will never be in a rush, but you’ll at least be aware that you are rushing. Displeasing thoughts, sensations or emotions won’t vanish, however you’ll have more insight about them and become aware of your choices in reaction to them.
Acting on a whim, as soon as they manifest is the norm for most of us. Learning how to act with mindful attention, ensures we become more skilled at managing the stresses and strains of daily life.
Using mindfulness can enable us to break free of conditioning, and unhelpful patterns in our lives, which we may, or may not, be aware of.
Let me know what you think of the raisin exercise, what did you notice while doing it? Did you experience any thoughts or sensations? Did you find your mind wandering during the exercise and were you able to gently bring your attention back to the experience of eating the raisin?