What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is something of a buzzword at the moment and is often featured in the news.
Its benefits have been backed up by health professionals, forming part of guidance for treatment of some mental health conditions by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence).
But what is mindfulness? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of MBSR (Mindfulness-based stress reduction), it means this:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Put simply, when you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. Instead of spending time living in your head, ruminating about what happened to you in the past or worrying about what might happen in the future, mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment.
Research by American journal Science showed that we spend approximately 47 per cent of our time with our mind wandering away from the task in hand. Let’s say that on average we live on this planet for 80 years, imagine by how much you could extend your life’s experience by living in the now and focusing on every moment! Instead, we tend to live our lives on autopilot, doing things mechanically and without thought: this not only includes daily activities like showering, eating, getting dressed and driving, but also thought patterns, habits and behaviours which become deeply ingrained with repetition and mean that we respond to life without thinking and, often, being unaware of the impact of our behaviours.
So how do we practice mindfulness? It can be formal – as in meditation, where we start by finding stillness by focusing on our breath – or informal, where we bring a fresh awareness to everyday activities.
Try this exercise for starters.
A good example of how to practice mindfulness is when eating. Instead of letting your mind wander, focus on being present to eat your food. How often do you sit and eat without really being present to experience how it tastes? Maybe you sit at your desk, working while eating lunch, or you watch TV while eating dinner. A great way to experience living in the moment is to eat mindfully, slow down and use all of your senses. Look at the food, feel the food, smell the food and really taste the food.
This is a great way to start to experience what mindfulness is all about. A bit like going to the gym where we work on our muscles, it’s about training your mind to really “be” in the moment. Try it, and you’ll really feel the benefits.
Debbie Leafe is Founder of Derbyshire-based firm Mindfit (http://www.mindfitcoaching.co.uk/) , specialists in mindfulness, coaching and yoga. Two decades working in the NHS and with more than 7,500 hours of coaching experience, Debbie has supported hundreds of individuals on a one to one basis and empowered thousands more to lead more positive and productive lives.