Updated: Dec 25, 2021
Our lives are a blur of activity, moving from one thing to another, rarely taking a second to stop and live in that exact moment. We juggle work, home life, social life, busying ourselves to get everything done. Yet, do you find yourself thinking about what still needs to be done the following day when you sit down to relax? If so, practising mindfulness could be for you. Mindfulness is all about awareness of right here, right now, in the present moment, not looking back and not looking forwards.
Practising mindfulness meditation can help to support your mental health and wellbeing.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental training technique that teaches us to be aware of our thoughts, moods, feelings, surroundings and bodily sensations as they are in the present moment. This enables us to see things as they are, not as we perceive or believe them to be.
Mindfulness techniques can be incorporated into different practices and programs. Such programs can help you manage your mental wellbeing and reduce stress. Mindfulness programs can also be used to treat recurring depression and even help with managing chronic pain.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
‘Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. Buddhist meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things.’ The Buddhist Centre.
There are many forms of meditation; mindfulness is just one form of meditation.
Remember mindfulness is the mental training technique of being aware of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you, in the present moment and without judgement. Meditation is one way that these mindfulness techniques are learned and practised. Meditations can be guided or non-guided.
However, you can apply the techniques and principles of mindfulness in most daily activities.
Therefore, you can perform mindfulness meditation in a quiet room, sitting still with your eyes closed with or without guided meditation. You can also apply mindfulness principles whilst outside walking in the park alone, looking and listening to your surroundings and noticing how your body feels. Similarly, you could be eating a meal quietly, looking at what you are eating, chewing slowly, savouring the flavours and sensations.
Here is a mindfulness meditation by Mark Williams at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, University of Oxford.
The body scan is a type of mindfulness meditation. It involves focusing on different parts of your body, acknowledging sensations but not overthinking them or trying to change them. You can then breathe into those parts of your body to help you relax them.
With your eyes closed, you start from the top of your head and slowly move down to your face, ears, neck and down the rest of your body until you get to your soles, tops of your feet and toes. Notice any warmth, tingling, itching, throbbing, coolness. Acknowledge, but don’t try to touch or change how you feel. At the end of the scan, open your eyes.
You can watch this 10-minute body scan meditation by Gill Johnson, Oxford Mindfulness Centre, University of Oxford.
Research shows that mindfulness is most beneficial when practised medication daily, ideally for at least minutes a day. However, a regular five or ten-minute daily practice can have a calming effect and help quieten your mind as well as being a good place to start to learn and develop a regular habit.
How Mindfulness Benefits Mental Wellbeing
With regular practice and patience over time, mindfulness benefits mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness helps you listen to your body and notice the physical and emotional feelings and signs of stress and anxiety, such as feelings of sadness, nervousness, darkness or tense muscle sensations, body aches, teeth grinding, and headaches. When you recognise the signs of stress and anxiety, you can acknowledge them and then take steps to manage or reduce your feelings of stress or worry.
Being in the present can help you enjoy and appreciate the things around you. You can notice the smaller things around you, like the sound of an aeroplane in the distance, the wind through the trees or the resting sounds of your home.
Learning and practising mindfulness should not be stressful. It is not a goal to pursue or achieve. Therefore, please accept that learning and making the practice a habit takes time. Don’t be hard on yourself; be kind, patient, and persistent.
How Can You Learn Mindfulness Techniques?
You can learn mindfulness through online or in-person courses with a teacher, either one-to-one or with a group. You can also learn by yourself, with family or friends through self-directed courses, books, and audio guides.
You can also learn mindfulness meditation and principles from good quality books, CDs, smartphone apps and downloaded courses.
Courses on Mindfulness
You can attend in-person or online taught courses on mindfulness. These programs are usually eight-week courses, but introductory classes are also available.
Use a teacher registered with the British Association Mindfulness-based Approaches (BAMBA) in the UK.
Online courses are also available from the University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre, UMASS, and Be Mindful from MIND.
Links to all these sites are at the end of this article.
Books and Audio on Mindfulness
This book is recommended to health care professionals, and it’s the book I used to learn mindfulness. It was co-developed by Professor Mark Williams of Oxford University and is an eight-week mindfulness program. It also includes a free CD with guided meditations.
The book is also available on Amazon audible for Kindle and audiobook.
Jon Kabat-Zinn has also written several books on mindfulness and meditation. You can check out his book, Mindfulness for Beginners or search for his books online or in a bookstore.
Smartphone Apps on Mindfulness
Based on the book in the last section, Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World, an official app is available. The free version includes the first week of the eight-week mindfulness programme. To access the remainder of the program, you need to pay. The reviews from users are variable.
Orcha highly rates the apps below.
Gro Health is the highest rated app on mindfulness by Orcha. This app provides education and behaviour change support to help you start and sustain positive health behaviours. It aims to improve your physical and mental wellbeing.
You can have personal one-to-one coaching, optimise your nutrition, track health parameters, be motivated to be active and improve your sleep.
Gro Health costs £99 per year.
Mindfulness Coach was developed to help Veterans, service members, and other people learn how to practice mindfulness. The app provides a gradual, self-guided training program to help you understand and adopt a simple mindfulness practice.
This app is entirely free.
Foundations: Wellbeing & Sleep offers a range of tools for mindfulness activities. This app is entirely free.
Insight Timer offers free guided meditations and paid subscriptions to access courses and listen offline.
How Can I Include Mindfulness in My Daily Life?
Keeping a Mindfulness Journal
Writing is an excellent way of getting your thoughts and feelings out of your head and down onto paper. Keeping a mindfulness journal will help you recognise and make notes of your current thoughts and feelings. You may find this helpful alongside If building your mindfulness meditation practice.
Colouring and Drawing
There are lots of different mindfulness colouring books for adults available to buy. Colouring helps you focus and clear your mind of worrying thoughts and stress. Drawing or doodling can have the same effect. So clear your mind and get creative.
Of course, we eat every day but taking the time to recognise the smell, taste and texture of what we are eating can be a wonderful way to practise mindfulness. You can even apply mindfulness to the food ingredients and preparation; this can help relax your mind and help you to focus on the present.
Be Patient, Persistent and Kind To Yourself
Mindfulness takes practice and patience. As mentioned earlier, don’t be tough on yourself or feel under pressure if you find it challenging to stay focused on the present. Instead, be kind and patient to yourself as you use these techniques. Our minds can be chaotic at times, and you almost have to unlearn the habit of worrying and thinking about everything all at once.
In your everyday life, please make a point of noticing the little things, sounds, smells, touch, taste, all the things we can take for granted. Consciously acknowledge to yourself that you are taking a moment of mindfulness. You may choose to start by doing this once a day at a particular time or at different times; it is entirely your choice. Over time mindfulness will form part of your daily habits.
Some people find mindfulness incredibly difficult at first, and that's normal. Temporarily switching off can seem an impossible task as soon as we stop; more worrying thoughts come to mind as if you have opened a door. Just remember, mindfulness isn’t about ignoring those thoughts and feelings. It is simply standing back to gain clarity.
You can practice mindfulness anywhere once you have learned how to; walking, doing yoga, swimming are perfect opportunities to be in the present moment, appreciating everything around you. Yoga and Tai-Chi incorporate mindfulness, focusing on breathing techniques and moving with the breath.
Mindfulness and Stress
In our last article, we discussed how to recognise and manage stress. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) incorporates mindfulness techniques to help you manage and reduce stress.
MBSR was developed and introduced into clinical practice by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMASS, USA) from the traditional Buddhist principles of mindfulness.
UMASS have a range of mindfulness programs, including an eight-week MBSR online program. You can find a link to a list of their programs at the end of this article.
Mindfulness and Recurrent Depression
Mindfulness techniques are used to treat people who have repeated bouts of depression through mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (MCBT).
MCBT is an evidence-based psychological treatment that helps people with depression become aware of negative thoughts and reduces the tendency to react to them. MCBT aims to encourage people to feel differently about their negative thoughts rather than to change the content of their thoughts. As a result, it can help prevent further episodes of depression and lead to improving the ability to enjoy activities.
The national institute recommends this form of treatment for health and care excellence (NICE) to prevent depression in people who have had three or more episodes of depression. Your healthcare professional will refer you for treatment.
This treatment usually takes place in a group and consists of eight weekly sessions. A further four sessions may be offered in the 12 months after treatment.
Mindfulness and Chronic Pain
The University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre confirms strong evidence that mindfulness-based practices can help people with chronic pain better manage their symptoms. Their recommended read is 'Mindfulness for Health: a practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman.
They also recommend contacting charities and organisations that specialise in your medical condition to find mindfulness programs that could be relevant to help you.
Living with chronic pain and long-term conditions can be stressful, and it’s well documented that many people with chronic pain and chronic health conditions also live with depression or are at greater risk of depression. Therefore, MBSR or MCBT treatment can be provided where relevant.
University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre for free online courses on mindfulness
Be Mindful for an online course by the Mental Health Foundation
Mental Health Foundation for tips and information on mindfulness
MIND Charity mindfulness exercises and other information resources on mindfulness
British Association of Mindfulness-Based Approaches (BAMBA) for qualified teachers in mindfulness
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline for depression
Centre for Mindfulness at UMass Memorial Health (UMASS) for online mindfulness programs
Free Buddhist Audio from The Buddhist Centre, for mindfulness meditations
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