What Is Mindfulness?
I’m often asked the question ‘what is mindfulness?’. I don’t believe there is one definitive answer to this question. What you’ll find here is just one possible answer, based on the way I have received and share the practices of mindfulness and self-kindness…
Mindfulness means being with our experience in a gentle, accepting way. When stressed, we have a tendency to be stuck in our heads, thinking and problem-solving. With mindful awareness, we learn to inhabit our direct, sensory experience in the body, and this gives us more choice in how we respond to difficulty. Through learning to be with all of our experience – even the difficult parts – we build emotional confidence. I share mindfulness with a strong emphasis on kindness and compassion (including self-kindness, which is extremely powerful in helping us cope with difficulty).
What are the benefits?
Research shows that mindfulness reduces stress and improves wellbeing. I can personally say that it has helped me feel much more calm and positive in the face of many life challenges. Mindfulness isn’t a quick fix, but it does have profound & lasting benefits when you make it a habit.
So how does it work?
Mindfulness is practised by engaging in regular meditation. But it may not be what you associate with the word ‘meditation’. There are sitting practices that can be done while being guided. These include focusing on the body, the breath or feelings of kindness. There are also ways to bring mindful awareness to whatever we’re doing, and this all counts as meditation. Over time, meditating regularly starts to have a positive impact on how we are generally. It’s a bit like training to get fit: when practised regularly, it has a cumulative effect, re-wiring the brain to create new neural pathways. Although practising meditation will greatly enhance the benefits, it is possible to start becoming more mindful of your habitual responses by using mindful awareness tools in daily life.
What’s the best way to learn?
Most people find that some guidance is helpful initially via a class or course of some kind. This can be especially helpful if you think you’re ‘no good at meditating’. Being able to access regular sessions helps with motivation to keep your own practice going. It can also be useful to connect with other people who are learning. You can get CD’s or downloads with guided meditations to listen to at home. My recordings can be found on the Meditations and Mini-Meditations pages of this blog.
If you’re not quite ready for regular meditation, but you want to develop a more mindful response to worry, stress and overwhelm – you can still learn to live more mindfully in everyday life. I share ideas on how to do this in my Monthly Tips posts. Although it’s true that sitting meditation enhances the benefits of mindfulness, you can also develop your own set of tools that can be used whether you meditate or not.
Are all classes the same?
There are different types of courses and classes. My approach is helpful for stress, but is not intended to provide support for debilitating mental health issues. If you have been diagnosed with (or suspect you may have) a mental health condition such as depression or an anxiety disorder, you can ask your GP about a referral to a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy course (MBCT) – this is different from the classes I offer.