What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is one of the most extensively researched practices in medicine and has been shown to have extremely positive and wide ranging effects; from reducing blood pressure to enhancing the immune system to curtailing anxiety and depression. Some of the most prestigious universities in the world are investigating the impacts of this practice on the mind and body. However, that doesn’t explain what it is. In essence, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental way by staying in the present moment.

Stay in the Present

Anxiety and depression stem from worrying about the past or the future. The more we stay in either, the greater the chance of us becoming trapped in unhappy thinking. Many of us hold guilt, anger and hurt from the past and play the associated memories over and over again like broken records. Likewise, fear and anxiety about the future can terrify us. Life’s uncertainty can be tortuous. The more we stay in the past and the future, in our minds, the less time we spend in the present. We lose our focus; we feel our memory is diminishing. We forget and lose things, all of which serve to make us feel worse about ourselves. The antidote to all this is to remain for as much of the day as possible, in the present. Each time you are dragged away into the past or future, bring yourself back to your breath; describe your surroundings, the time or what you are wearing. Stay in the present, moment by moment and you will be less vulnerable to the trappings of past and future. Practice this while waiting for the kettle to boil, the traffic lights to change or the bus. Make present moment awareness part of your life.

Your Breath is your anchor

The breath is crucial to mindfulness practice. It is the one thing that is always with you and it is free. How do you breathe? Like most people you probably breathe with your chest in shallow bursts; especially when you are anxious. When you practice mindfulness you are encouraged to breathe with your belly instead of your chest (abdominal breathing). Simply breathe in deeply while extending your tummy. Hold the breath for a moment and inhale deeply by sucking your abdominal muscles in as far as you can. Hold your breath again for a moment and repeat the cycle. Watch your animals as they sleep. You will see that your dog naturally breathes with her belly. 

5 minute meditation practice

Take 5 minutes, 3 times each day, to sit with your thoughts and emotions in silence. Sit upright in a comfortable chair and close your eyes. Focus on your breath but don’t try to control it. You might begin to notice thoughts and emotions entering your awareness. Label them as thoughts or feelings, accept them but don’t become distracted by them. If you become distracted simply come back to your breathing. You will have to do this thousands of times; it is not a failure to be distracted, it is normal. Each to time you come to the breath you are training your mind to accept reality and learning to overcome anxiety and depression.

Things to remember

Don't try to "do" mindfulness better each day; its not a game, so don't be dissappointment when some days are harder than others.

Mindfulness practice can be frustrating - sometimes the harder you "try" the more difficult it seems. The answer is not to try anything, just watch your thoughts without reacting with them and come back to your breath.

It is natural for your mind to constantly wander.

When distracted, always come back to your breath.

Accept whatever is happening, good or bad, in this present moment.

Anxiety and depression stem from ruminating on past events and worrying about the future – by staying in the present, we limit mental suffering.

Use your breath to ground you in the present moment.


Recommended Reading:

"Full Catastrophe Living" by Jon Kabat Zinn

"Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in Eight Weeks" 2011 (www.science daily.com)

"Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom" by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius