Mindfulness is a way of fully paying attention — without judgement and focused on the present moment. You can acquire the skill through techniques including meditation and yoga.
Although the practice has its roots in Buddhism, secular mindfulness practice is now mainstream. That’s partly due to the work of the American Jon Kabat-Zinn, who launched a programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical School back in 1979.
Since the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)programme began, many studies have been undertaken, documenting the physical and mental health benefits.
Research indicates that mindful people are more aware of their thoughts and feelings, and, in turn, better able to manage them.
Mindfulness training improves your focus and concentrating, as well as resilience and emotional intelligence. That then improves your relationships with others.
A lot has been written about mindfulness over the last few years. Reading the popular press, one could easily think that it is the cure for all ills. It isn’t.
Many businesses have embraced it and some have even instituted mindfulness lessons, seeing it as an essential life hack for increased worker productivity. There is no doubt that it can increase levels of efficiency and effectiveness, but it is a way of being, not doing.
Mindfulness is a skill that needs to be discovered and explored when the time is right. It is not a competitive sport. You must take time to understand where kindness, curiosity and compassion fit in. With mindfulness, multitasking is not a badge of honour.
In broad terms, there are two forms of mindfulness practice: formal and informal. Formal practices such as sitting meditation or yoga provide key conditions for calming and quieting the mind.
There is a clear link between the amount of time spent in engaging with formal training and positive changes in well-being. However, informal practices have their place as well.
Our day to day lives create our informal training ground. Practice can occur during eating, walking, showering or washing the dishes, but does not have the same impact on the brain as a formal practice. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a virtuous circle between formal and informal practices.
In a world that is always on, we need to know how to find stillness and calm. It is a natural way of being and an antidote to stress. That state helps us to heal, think and regain perspective. Mindfulness can help us achieve that. It is not a new age thing but a human thing. It can help us be the best we can be both at work and at play.
Like all skills, you cannot start to practise them just when you need them most. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn:
You don’t want to start weaving the parachute when you’re about to jump out of the plane
Only you know if mindfulness is right for you but consider exploring its possibilities. To assist you I have included some reading suggestions at the end of this article.
If you do wish to investigate it further, find a practitioner who has received appropriate training and has a regular formal practise themselves. Don’t be afraid to enquire.
If you have mental health issues, you should discuss with your doctor or health care professional whether you should undertake mindfulness. In some cases, your doctor may even be able to ‘prescribe’ meditation as part of your treatment.
One day, mindfulness might just be the best tool you have in your mental toolbox, sharpened and ready to use when you need it most.
If you would like to continue the conversation around mindfulness You can find me on Twitter @firstintheq. Why not say ‘hello’?
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013) Revised Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation Piatkus, Great Britain.
Williams, M., Penman, D. (2011) Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world Piatkus, Great Britain.
Harrison, E. (2009) The 5-Minute Meditator Piatkus, Great Britain.
This article was first published by @swarm_tweets in their online magazine BUZZ