What is Mindfulness?

You may have heard about mindfulness in the media. It’s getting a lot of press at the moment as if it some kind of new discovery. In fact, it has been around for thousands of years. However, it is only relatively recently that it has started to really get noticed. It seems that this is due to the huge amount of research evidence expounding its benefits, but also because mindfulness is now used in many organisations ranging from the NHS, the armed forces, schools, universities, prisons and the workplace. Mindfulness is even in UK parliament where hundreds of ministers have attended courses and is practiced in some of the most successful companies in the world.

So what is all the fuss about? Mindfulness has known benefits such as helping with stress reduction, recurrent depression, anxiety, as well as helping reduce addiction. The evidence also suggest that it can increase a person’s happiness, general well-being and kindness towards themselves and others. At work, it can help with productivity, improved relationships, and greater staff resilience.

Mindfulness is a capability that we all have, but is not always developed or sustained, but it can be trained. It is our natural ability to be aware of what we are doing, thinking, feeling and sensing from moment to moment without judging. It is also our capacity for kindness, compassion and empathy, amongst other qualities. Through regular mindfulness meditation practices we can cultivate these capabilities and qualities, and thus reap the benefits in our daily lives.

Try this short exercise: next time you have a few spare minutes at your desk, at home or waiting for a train, bring your attention to your breath as it enters and leaves the body. Notice the in-breath and out-breath and try to maintain your attention on the full cycle of each breath. This might seem very simple and straightforward, but for most of us, our minds cannot stay still. They wander off to all kinds of places: memories, plans, worries. At the heart of mindfulness practice is the ability to note when your thoughts have wandered off, and to bring your attention gently back to the breath. Over time and with practice, it gets easier to focus your mind on what you want without too much distraction. This might seem like a little thing, but it can have huge impact on our well-being. Try it. It might just change your life.

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