What is mindfulness?


What’s mindfulness all about?

We’ve all heard the word. I don’t think a day goes by without hearing mindfulness in the media in some form or another. But what is it all about?

A brief explanation

Mindfulness in its simplest form means awareness. Practising mindfulness is a way of paying attention, here and now, without judging any emotions that arise. A simple practice could be learning to focus the attention on our breathing and when the mind wanders, bringing it back to the breath. Simply being aware of mind and body sensations as they occur in that moment.

Sounds too easy right? Well holding our ‘cricket mind’ steady as it jumps around from thought to thought is not as easy as it sounds. Staying present to feelings of discomfort or difficulty and allowing them to be there, is also not easy or desirable to most of us. So why do it?

Why do it?

Do you struggle to recollect your daily commute?
Do you eat your dinner without tasting it?
Do you find yourself drifting off during a conversation?
Do you walk to the local shop and not notice a thing around you as you are so busy thinking?

If so, you are spending this time in autopilot.

Breaking the autopilot

Being on autopilot and therefore very much living in our heads means we are never fully here, never fully present. We fail to notice life is happening around us, fail to hear what our body’s are telling us and we can get caught up in habitual thought patterns that do not serve us positively.

Mindfulness can help us break that autopilot and allow us to take control of our attention again. Rather than being caught up in our thoughts or reacting to events in a mechanical, preconditioned way, it gives us the ability to consider alternative perspectives, take a step back and choose appropriate responses.

What are the benefits?

Stress and anxiety
Mindfulness helps us to deal with stress and anxiety by calming the fight, flight, freeze response (the amygdala) and strengthening growth of the rational thought part of our brains (the pre-frontal cortex). (Harvard Health Publishing – Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress)

Focus and attention
Mindfulness helps improve focus and attention. By bringing our minds consistently back to the present and a point of focus, through practice, we are strengthening these neural pathways to enhance better clarity of thought. (Huffpost – Using Mindfulness to Train Attention)

Self-compassion and empathy
Mindfulness can help us cultivate self-compassion and empathy for others. Being kind to ourselves is the bedrock of mindfulness practice and cultivating kindness can make us significantly more altruistic towards others. (Greater Good Magazine – Does Mindfulness Make You More Compassionate?)

Negative thought patterns
According to research – a wandering mind is not a happy mind (The Harvard Gazette – Wandering mind not a happy mind). Unhooking ourselves from the autopilot setting of the mind allows us to break the cycle of rumination, catastrophising and negative thought patterns. (ScienceDirect – Mindfulness and Rumination: Does Mindfulness Training Lead to Reductions in the Ruminative Thinking Associated With Depression?)