Stop, take a moment and breathe. Mindfulness is a way of focusing on the present moment in an effort to become more aware of thoughts and feelings that may be overwhelming you. Adopting mindful practices is designed to build more rational thought patterns and will hopefully help you gain a better sense of perspective when it comes to the pressures of modern life.
Mindfulness was originally a Buddhist concept which has now been adapted and adopted by western psychology. The use of mindfulness in psychology retains many of the Buddhist techniques, including meditation, appreciating our interaction with the world around us and learning not to pre-judge situations (mindfulness of sensations, then thoughts, then actions).
One of the most common ways to initiate mindfulness is through meditative breathing. Becoming aware of sensations such as the passage of air through the nostrils in turn makes us aware of the process of breathing and this ‘consciousness’ can then be applied to other unconscious (mental) activities.
Our emotional reactions to negative situations occur very rapidly and are accompanied by a number of almost instantaneous physiological changes (heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, muscle tension). These physical states often remain altered long after the initial trigger has passed because our minds become fixated on the specific negative moment and begin treating the memory of it as current and real. We then respond outwardly to the feelings and sensations, and before we know it, we are hitting back at a frustration or upset that is no longer relevant.
Such behaviour represents a kind of auto-pilot that we often fall into. By not being truly aware of what we are doing and why (because we are too concerned with past events or what may or may not happen in the future), it is said that we are not ‘present’ in each moment of our lives.
Mindfulness is based on the idea that by regaining presence in the moment, we open ourselves up to more freedom and choice and are able to consciously avoid “mental ruts” that may have caused us trouble in the past. With continual mindful practice, you should be able to let thoughts and feelings come and go without getting caught up in them, resulting in feelings of calm acceptance and a greater ability to enjoy life.
Anyone can practice mindfulness, but if you are prone to stress, suffer mental health problems such as depression, are battling addictive behaviours and low self esteem or have to deal with chronic pain, then mindfulness may help you to see light at the end of the tunnel when times are hard.
Practising mindfulness can also apparently boost your attention span, make it easier for you to relax and improve your concentration levels, as well as having beneficial effects on those with hypertension and heart disease. It’s easy to pick up and simple to implement, so could represent a valuable long term investment.
Mindfulness was first incorporated into modern clinical psychology and psychiatry in the 1970s.