What is mindfulness?
The term “Mindfulness” seems to be cropping up everywhere as a new concept increasing positivity and wellbeing. Deemed as a relatively new concept; its foundations are rooted within the traditions of Buddhism and other Eastern religions. Essentially, it is an amalgamation of Western science with yoga and meditation.
Why mindfulness meditation is useful
Most recently, it has become an acceptable form of therapy, since it has been found to encourage recovery, reduce chronic pain and improve symptoms of mental health such as high levels of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is a useful addition to anyone’s life, since it helps cope with the high demands and expectancies of our busy and hectic lifestyles.
Mindfulness meditation programs
Jon Kabat Zinn is one of the founders of “Mindfulness” programs. He has practised yoga with Zen experts and is also a scientific researcher. His definition of mindfulness is widely cited and considers mindfulness to be “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgementally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”.
Two mindfulness programs include mindfulness based stress therapy (MBST) and mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBST). Both involve weekly and daily sessions for a period of eight weeks.
These sessions involve sitting meditation, yoga, body scan meditation, walking meditation and the monitoring of negative and positive events. Initially these programs were created to reduce stress and chronic pain in those with chronic pain illnesses and cancer, as well as people with high levels of depression and anxiety.
Studies have illustrated that these programs have been beneficial for reducing and managing symptoms and a change of perspective. Whilst these programs are aimed at clinical populations, everyone can benefit from mindfulness.
Due to emphasis being placed on the present moment, mindfulness teaches one to accept their emotions, reactions and feelings by holding back any judgements. I’m sure we can all relate when we’ve perhaps done something that has made us feel guilty or regretful. However, if we learn to accept these actions and forgive ourselves, our mental wellbeing is thought to improve.
Through the use of meditation techniques we can try and break habitual processes, feelings and thinking patterns that sometimes automatically produce negativity. These techniques work to increase insight into feelings and patterns of thinking, simultaneously increasing our awareness and attention. Essentially, we are regaining control of ourselves. Usually we are unable to control automatic behavioural and physiological reactions to certain triggers; however, with a greater insight and awareness we can manage and sustain regulation of our emotions and responses.
Mindfulness and the present moment
The most important aspect of mindfulness I feel, is the awareness of the present moment. When we walk to work, or to an appointment or to school, it is frequent that our mind is occupied with thoughts and worries such as “I’m going to be late!” or “I have so much work to do!”.
We spend too much time worrying about what is going to happen in the future or what happened in the past that we forget to live in the present moment. Mindfulness brings back the importance of living in the present moment, because essentially that moment is never going to occur again.
Next time you’re walking somewhere, take account of the surroundings, enjoy the moment, enjoy the walk. If you feel that your mind is occupied by worries and thoughts, take a deep breath and try and occupy your mind by becoming aware of your surroundings, the people and the smells around you.
Start your mindfulness meditation practice
A simple internet search will provide you with guided meditations and mindfulness activities. Personally, I would recommend meditations and activities that ask you questions about your thoughts and feelings about specific things. Since you are more attentive, focused and aware after the meditation, you can learn a lot about yourself through this form of reflective thinking, which in turn helps you to forgive and accept yourself and others.
If you are feeling angry, stressed or depressed, a guided meditation a day is a great way to spend some “me” time. Many meditations are very short and therefore you will not feel like you’re wasting time. Most people, who are “mindful” daily, comment on their positive change of perspective, their moment to moment awareness and their increased insight to their own feelings and thinking patterns.
Written by Denisha Makwana
Photography by Clare Hudson