In recent years, much has been written and talked about mindfulness. But what does it actually mean? And what are the benefits of practising mindfulness?
The classical dictionary definition of mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” And really, that’s what it’s all about.
It’s very easy to rush through life without taking the time to actually notice and enjoy the world around you. It’s also very easy to ignore the thoughts in your own head, and the way you feel. Being ‘mindful’ is about taking the time, often only a few minutes a day, to pause and become more aware of those things.
Thinking at a million miles an hour.
I know from my own experience that it’s all to easy to become wrapped up in ‘doing’ life. Much of the time I would have so much to do that I’d rush from task to task, focusing only on what I needed to complete by the end of the day. Not only was I not making time for myself, I wasn’t actually enjoying what I was doing.
Going through life with a mind full of thoughts, rather than being mindful of myself and my environment, wasn’t helping my mental health one bit.
About six months ago, I began to practice mindfulness. At the beginning I didn’t really understand it. Then the penny dropped… it’s about ‘being’ rather than simply ‘doing’.
Instead of allowing thoughts to rush around my brain at a million miles an hour, I could take time to notice them. Once I could notice my thoughts, I could begin to recognise them as what they were; thoughts. Just because I had a thought, to eat a chocolate biscuit for example, doesn’t mean I had to act on it. For me, that has been a really powerful tool in addressing some of my more challenging compulsive behaviours.
Of course, it’s equally useful to stop myself eating too many biscuits too!
Mindfulness and meditation, two sides of the same coin.
There’s a link between mindfulness and meditation, in that both are about awareness. In mindfulness you try to be aware of your thoughts and notice, really notice and be aware of, the world around you.
Meditation, I suppose, is about taking that one step further, and trying to direct your attention and your thoughts in particular ways. Often focusing on something calming and relaxing, such as particular sounds, places or even just your own breathing.
I practice both mindfulness and meditation and find them both very beneficial. Another post coming soon will talk more about meditation but for now suffice it to say that I think that mindfulness and meditation are very much two sides of the same coin.
Mindfulness has changed the way I live my life.
Being more aware of the world around me has changed the way I live my life. That’s a grand claim, I know, but it’s also true.
For me, mindfulness has been about taking the time both to stay in touch with the way I’m feeling from day to day, hour to hour and also about noticing and enjoying life. When I notice that I’m beginning to think too much about a problem, or spending to much time ‘in my own head’ then mindfulness really helps me.
Mostly I’ll simply focus on my breathing. That’s a great way to slow my thoughts and calm myself anyway. But then I find that I can begin to notice how I’m feeling, both mentally and physically. Noticing those things means I can ask myself why I’m feeling like that, and take calm, logical decisions about what to do next.
Mindfulness, though, has also helped me to simply enjoy life more. It’s amazing how enjoyable a walk in the woods, watching a film at the cinema or simply travelling to work, can be when you really take the time to notice what’s around you and to enjoy the simple pleasure that can bring.
All in all, I’m a calmer, happier and above all healthier person now than I was, and mindfulness is an enormous part of the reason why.
- NHS Choices have a page about mindfulness at http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/mindfulness.aspx
- There’s also information on the MIND website at http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/mindfulness/