There’s a lot of confusing information out there about what mindfulness is: A way to meditate? A type of therapy? A relaxation strategy?
In some ways it can be all of the above, but really it’s as simple as becoming aware of your here and now experience. Mindfulness helps to develop our sense of increased awareness and ability to focus in everyday activities.
Practising mindfulness is useful in and of itself; it is not designed to be used only when you are having difficulties. You can incorporate it into your everyday routines, such as practising mindful walking or fishing. By consciously incorporating mindfulness into as much of your day as possible, you increase your awareness and enhance your sense of control and choice.
Mindfulness exercises have been shown to help people stay on course and to better manage difficult thoughts, feelings and experiences. We should note that mindfulness exercises are not designed as relaxation exercises, though they often have that effect. In relaxation exercises you might be trying to slow your breath or clear your head, whereas in mindfulness exercises you are not trying to change anything. You are simply looking to notice and be aware of your experience, such as your breath, and to notice thoughts that are appearing without becoming fused with them or working to make yourself relax.
How can mindfulness help?
When you are mindful, you are better able to take in information from your environment and choose an appropriate response, rather than reacting based on a history of bad experiences and old habits. Developing this ability to be present in the moment means you are better able to put thoughts and feelings into perspective. Through adopting a mindful approach, once overwhelming events can become a part of your life experiences, rather than something that demands all your attention and energy. Becoming mindfully aware of what is happening within and around you, of what thoughts and feelings are present, helps create a greater sense of control and choice over how you live your life.
Now you’re probably thinking, if it’s that easy, why isn’t everyone doing this? Well, to be fair, it isn’t all that easy. Finding the time and motivation can be difficult, particularly since mindfulness works best with daily and regular practice. The biggest challenge, however, is that it can be hard to adopt an attitude of ‘willingness’ to simply pay attention to your experience, and to make room for a variety of feelings.
As a rule, most people automatically try to minimise pain. This means that when unpleasant stuff comes up for us, we try to get rid of it: pushing thoughts away, trying to forget, drinking, engaging in excessive exercise, ignoring emotions, or isolating ourselves in order to try control our experiences. Unfortunately, these efforts often only offer temporary relief, and can sometimes increase difficulties in other areas of our life.
But these behaviours can become habitual, and the mindset that discomfort is ‘unacceptable’ and so we must ‘get rid of’ any uncomfortable feelings or sensations can become ingrained. It’s these beliefs that we need to confront in order to begin engaging in mindfulness, as mindfulness really is directly opposed to these practices.
The fact is, being aware of, observing, and making room for unpleasant feelings and sensations lessens their negative impact on us far more than struggling with them and trying to push them away.
We have provided a guide to creating your own mindfulness exercise, however, there are lots more out there. Don’t take our word for it that mindfulness can be helpful, try different mindfulness exercises and decide for yourself. The important thing is to find something that works for you in your life.
Here are some links to some accessible information on mindfulness:
- Jim Hopper has produced a great web page on Mindfulness and Kindness at www.jimhopper.com/mindfulness
- The think mindfully site guides you through an introduction to mindfulness practices. www.thinkmindfully.com
- The self compassions site provides some simple mindfulness exercises and information that help build ‘self compassion’ (something for us all). www.self-compassion.org
- This mindfulness psychology site provides a brief intro with some information on the application of mindfulness in every day life, with reference to some of the older Zen traditions of meditation. www.mindfulpsychology.com
Or you can try our own audio mindfulness exercises.