What is mindfulness?
The official definition of mindfulness is ‘the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something’.1 It originates in Buddhism but is a skill and technique that can be adopted by anyone.2 It is often associated with spiritual beliefs but this isn’t always the case. Anyone can benefit from practising mindfulness.
Mindfulness is sometimes referred to as self-realisation, the zone, pure consciousness and other similar terms. In some cultures, it is known as ‘the Tao’ or ‘sat-chit-ananda’ (being-consciousness-bliss).
Many of us find ourselves juggling busy lifestyles with little time to stop and take a breath. The concept behind mindfulness is to improve your own wellbeing by taking the time to be more aware of your own thoughts, feelings, mental state and physical wellbeing.3
Many psychologists and psychiatrists have adopted mindfulness as a way to help patients with certain psychiatric disorders and depression, using Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MCBT). The therapy aims to reduce reoccurring negative thoughts or to change them into positive thoughts. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) may also be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues.4
NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has listed a good article – “Look after your mental health using mindfulness.” 5
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
There are thought to be many benefits to mindfulness including:
- improving mental health3
- preventing depression3
- a positive way to understand and accept our thoughts and emotions3
- increased self-awareness3
- reducing stress and anxiety6
- assisting with managing physical pain7,8
- better quality of life including defusing anger and post-trauma rehabilitation4
There is also a possibility that mindfulness is good for reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system.10 The important thing to remember is that mindfulness should be a very personal experience and practising mindfulness is a skill that will be unique to the individual.
How to be mindful
There are many techniques and skills to help you find time and ways to become mindful. Here are some suggestions:11
- find somewhere quiet, calm and comfortable
- be aware of your body, posture and your breathing
- pay attention to the present moment
- focus on relaxing your body and mind
- re-focus your mind if it wanders by focusing on your breathing
- don’t overthink it or judge yourself for your ability to become mindful – it is a skill that needs to be learnt and improved upon
- choose a regular time to help with frequency, i.e. during a lunchtime walk, your daily train commute (in a quiet carriage), first thing in the morning before the rest of your household wake up
- try breaking certain habits and try new things such as sitting somewhere different or eating in a new place – this can help you view your surroundings differently and become more aware of what’s around you
- as thoughts approach your mind and try to impede your mindfulness time, try to let them wash over you like a wave, without becoming engrossed in the detail
- try to focus on positive energy while you relax
You can even eat mindfully, which provides many dietary and digestive benefits. To enjoy mindful eating, focus on the food you are enjoying instead of slipping into ‘autopilot’ eating. We’re all guilty of eating on the run or rushing our meals when life is hectic. Try to take the time to enjoy the appearance, smell and colours of your food. With each mouthful pay attention to the texture and taste, chewing slowly to increase your awareness and enjoyment.12 The practical skills used in mindful eating can help you improve other mindful time.
Does it work for everyone?
Being mindful is a very personal experience – you may choose to find the time to practice mindfulness each day or only when you feel the need. You may adopt your own preferences and techniques but finding what works for you is what is important. Taking those precious moments to relax and focus your mind on the present time offers many benefits, both physical and mental, for many people.
- Definition of mindfulness – English Oxford Living Dictionaries
- What is mindfulness – Mind
- Welcome to the Moodzone; Mindfulness – NHS Choices
- What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Daphne M. Davis, PhD, and Jeffrey A. Hayes, PhD
American Psychological Association
- How to look after your mental health using mindfulness – Mental Health Foundation
- Randomised controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder; Effects on anxiety and stress reactivity,
Elizabeth A. Hoge, Eric Bui, Luana Marques, Christina A. Metcalf, Laura K. Morris, Donald J. Robinaugh, John J. Worthington, Mark H. Pollack, and Naomi M. Simon
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
- Can Mindfulness Meditation Really Reduce Pain and Suffering
- Comparison of an Online Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy Intervention With Online Pain Management Psychoeducation: A Randomized Controlled Study.
Dowd H1, Hogan MJ, McGuire BE, Davis MC, Sarma KM, Fish RA, Zautra AJ.
Clin J Pain. 2015 Jun;31(6):517-27.
- Relaxation and Mindfulness in Pain: A Review
Rev Pain. 2010 Mar; 4(1): 18–22.
Emma Dunford, BSc and Miles Thompson DClinPsy
- Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials Black DS, Slavich GM US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26799456
- How to Practice Mindfulness – Mindful.org
- Mindful eating
Jan Chozen Bays M.D.
Date updated: 14.04.21 (V1.2)
Review date: 08.02.22