The term mindfulness refers to "an openhearted, moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness", "paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally." (Kabat-Zinn,2005,p24).
When practicing mindfulness, everyone, however much they practice, will experience thoughts creeping in to their heads uninvited. This is fine - its just what brains do, but how we respond to these thoughts is important. If we start to think about the thought, or get annoyed with ourselves for not being able to retain our focus, it stops us paying attention and takes us away from the present moment. If we just acknowledge the thought and let it go without judgement, we retain our focus on being in the present moment. This increases awareness, clarity and acceptance of our present-moment reality. In a nutshell, it can be described as choosing and learning to control the focus of our attention.
When we use mindfulness in counselling/psychotherapy we focus on becoming aware of our internal experience, helping clients to observe and notice their thoughts, feelings and sensations with acceptance and without dwelling or ruminating on the story of their negative thoughts. This sounds simple but is not easy. The mind can be conditioned and developed into unhelpful thinking which can become destructive to our well-being. Mindfulness is a very simple concept and does not conflict with any beliefs or tradition, religious, cultural or scientific. It is simply a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells - anything we might not normally notice. The actual skills might be simple, but because it is so different to how our minds normally behave, it takes a lot of practice.
I might go out into the garden and as I look around, I think "that grass really needs cutting, and that vegetable patch looks very untidy". A small child, on the other hand, will call over excitedly, "Come and look at this ant!" She is enjoying the moment and not telling herself how untidy the garden is. Mindfulness can simply be noticing what we don't normally notice, because 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. By learning to notice your thoughts and feelings you will be able to make better choices and decisions.
The ABC of mindfulness -
A is for awareness - Becoming more aware of what you are thinking and doing – what’s going on in your mind and body.
B is for "just Being" with your experience. Avoiding the tendency to respond on auto-pilot and feed problems by creating your own story.
C is for seeing things and responding more wisely. By creating a gap between the experience and our reaction to, we can make wiser choices.
So how do you do it? - First, by becoming more aware of the world around you: switching off the auto-pilot, noticing and watching your thoughts and feelings, waking up to the physical sensations of things. Second, most teachers recommend a set daily period of more formal mindfulness practice. The techniques sound simple enough: sitting in a quiet place, deep-belly breathing, paying attention to your body, training the mind to observe, focus and filter. In fact, setting aside 15 minutes a day is often tough, and stopping the mind wandering even tougher. There are many courses available, including online and even apps, and most of those who who do it, swear by it. Mindfulness skills have many benefits which can help with:
•Anxiety and Depression
•PTSD (post- traumatic stress disorder) •Stress •Addictive Behaviour •Disordered eating •Physical problems •Sleep problems
Here is an example exercise you can practice when stressful situations arise:
1. Sit somewhere quiet, with your back straight and your feet on the floor, hands resting on your lap.
2. Then focus on your breath - breathing in and out – where do you feel your breath? (is it in your nostrils, chest or stomach area?)
3. Stay focused on your breath for a few minutes. Notice when you start to think destructively (do this without judgment, accept what is, with kindness to yourself) feel the emotions and sensations in your body and then, gently come back focusing on your breath.
4. You will start feeling more at ease with yourself and others when you become more aware of your emotions and feelings.