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What is mindfulness?

Posted 11 May '15 by Gill Wier

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 11th – 17th 2015) is Mindfulness.  Gill Wier explains what mindfulness is and how it can help us cope with difficulties and enjoy life to the full.

Mindfulness is becoming a popular concept in the therapeutic world and beyond but it’s by no means new - it has been used for hundreds of years by Buddhists as a key element of their religious practice and is also used in yoga. However, the practice of mindfulness is beneficial for people from any religion or none.

Here and Now

Mindfulness is all about connecting with your experience in the present moment.  As you read this now become aware of yourself breathing.  Take a couple of moments to focus on the sensations of breathing in and out, how your chest rises and falls.  This is a brief example of how mindfulness shifts our awareness onto what we are experiencing through our senses in the here and now.

Being not Doing

When we shift our awareness onto what we can sense in the here and now we are shifting from a state of doing into a state of being.  I am simply aware of what it’s like to be me, in my body, in this place, at this moment right now.

An Attitude of Acceptance

In mindfulness we approach our experience with an attitude of curiosity, calmness and acceptance.  If I notice an unpleasant sensation in my body, rather than tensing up and fighting against that feeling I approach it with interest and curiosity – what does it feel like? I imagine space around that sensation, making room for it in my body.  The sensation often changes or disappears – but this is not the aim of mindfulness – the aim is simply to notice in a non-judgemental and accepting way in order to become more aware of my experience.

How does mindfulness help?

Many of us live in the past or the future for much of the time but the present is where we actually exist and can influence things.  We can’t change the past or predict the future but we can enjoy the gift of this moment.  Practising mindfulness daily can help us to accept and overcome the symptoms of anxiety and depression.  When we can recognise “I am OK right now,” we experience relief and are able to switch off from fearful or negative thoughts by shifting our focus onto our present experience. 

I have introduced many clients to the concept of mindfulness and have seen how effective it has been in helping people, for example, those who are struggling with anxiety following a traumatic incident.  There is a growing body of research to show that mindfulness can be helpful for people with mental and physical health problems such as stress, depression, chronic pain and eating disorders and it is being acknowledged as a useful intervention by the NHS.

Even when we are feeling healthy and happy mindfulness can enhance our experience of day to day life enabling us to fully appreciate each moment.

Want to know more?

Here are a couple of books you might want to read

The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams

The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

There are also apps you can download such as Headspace and online courses such as Bemindfulonline