Mindfulness is a simple concept of paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This increases awareness, clarity and acceptance of our present-moment reality. It can help us to become aware of thought/ emotional and behavioural processes, so rather than reacting in automatic, habitual patterns that may be unhelpful, we can choose how to respond in a given situation.
Mindfulness does not conflict with any beliefs or traditions, religious, cultural or scientific. It is simply a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells; anything we might not normally notice. Present moment awareness is often missed as our heads are too busy in the future or in the past – thinking about what we need to do, or going over what we have done. The actual skills might be simple, but because it is so different to how our minds normally behave, it takes a lot of practice.
In a car, we can sometimes drive for miles on “automatic pilot”, without really being aware of what we are doing. In the same way, we may not be really “present”, moment-by-moment, for much of our lives: We can often be “miles away” without knowing it, missing out on what is actually happening. On automatic pilot, we are more likely to have our “buttons pressed” where situations can trigger old habits of thinking and responding that are often unhelpful and may lead to worsening mood (and for which we may only be dimly aware). By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice; we do not have to go into the same old “mental ruts” that may have caused problems in the past.
Mindfulness has become extremely popular in recent years, though the practice goes back centuries. There is a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating its utility for a wide range of mental and physical issues. It is also growing in popularity for a non-clinical population and is being used by professionals and also increasingly with children. There is also a growing body of neuroscientific evidence demonstrating its positive effects, using neuroimaging.
Self help Mindfulness books:
Mindfulness for Health: a practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing. Vidyamala Burch & Danny Penman (2013) Piatkus books. (comes with CD –female voice)
Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. Mark Williams and Danny Penman – (comes with a CD – male voice)
Websites and apps:
www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk – lots of information on mindfulness weekends and training courses, with CDs to buy www.mindfulselfcompassion.org – meditation downloads www.freemindfulness.org – mindfulness downloads and links to resources www.marc.ucla.edu/ody – free meditation podcasts from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center www.getsomeheadspace.com – Headspace is a free smartphone app by a British former Buddhist monk, with ten different 10-minute mindfulness tracks to try daily, and notifications to remind you to check in with yourself.