Woman with eyes closed in deep thought

Combining meditation, breathing techniques and paying attention to the present moment, mindfulness helps people change the way they think, feel and act.

The Mental Health Foundation

Most of our days are spent working out what went wrong in the past and worrying about the future, leaving little room for focusing on the present. But when we’re aware of what’s happening around us, we have a deeper appreciation of who we are and how we feel. This is at the core of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practise of staying in the moment, being aware of ourselves and our surroundings. Mindfulness is not about trying to change things or solve problems but is a way of accepting how things are at the present time. Based on Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn who identified the fundamental skills required to live mindfully.

Key skills of mindfulness

  • Awareness: learning to focus on one thing at a time is a core mindfulness skill. Noticing the external (sights, smells and sounds) and the internal (how you feel and what you’re thinking) at the same time is one of the fundamental components of mindfulness
  • Non-judgmental observation: this is another skill which allows you to view your experiences in a totally nonjudgmental way. When thinking about how you behaved in a certain situation for example, mindfulness calls for you to see it for what it was without labeling it, or yourself, as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
  • Staying in the present moment: this is an important part of mindfulness, and means being ‘in touch’ with the present moment as opposed to being sidelined by intrusive thoughts about the past. It’s hard to feel stuck on ‘auto-pilot’ when we’re aware of everything that’s happening in the present moment.
  • Being open: means that you’re receptive to interpretations, whatever they might be. So, for example, if you’re dealing with a particular situation you look at things neutrally as opposed to affixing a specific meaning. When we judge others or ourselves we’re usually wrong as we’re using superficial information and pre-conceived notions.

Simple mindfulness exercises you can use every day

Mindfulness is an excellent – and proven – way to reduce stress and anxiety and allow ourselves to view even the most painful situations objectively.

You don’t have to be experienced in meditation or relaxation techniques. The great thing about mindfulness is that we all do it naturally. And while it can take practice to get into the flow, it’s easier than you might think.

  • Focus on your breathing: noting each breath you take for a few minutes is an excellent way increasing your awareness of the present moment. Be aware of how your body feels and what you hear around you while concentrating on how each breath flows in and out. You can do this exercise with your eyes closed or open, and as it takes only a few minutes, you can find time to practice at home, work or on your commute.
  • Focus on your environment: your external environment can have a profound effect on your mood and wellbeing – whether positive or negative. Listening to the dawn chorus while waking up or hearing the familiar rumble of everyday traffic are good opportunities to practice being aware of what’s happening around you. Even if the sound is not one of your favourites, it doesn’t matter. It’s about being aware, not comforted.
  • Eat mindfully: life is busy and stressful and as a result we often rush through our meals without noticing the smells, textures and tastes. We miss out on the experience of enjoying our food and work on the basis that food is simply fuel, not something to enjoy and appreciate. Mindful eating involves being aware of the texture and taste of food and living in the moment, gently and mindfully.
  • Walk mindfully: even a short walk to the bus stop is an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Concentrate on the way your limbs are moving, focus on your breathing and notice all of the sounds and sights around you. Choose a time when you’re not rushing for maximum benefit and allow yourself to walk in the moment aware of the workings of your body and the beauty of the world. More information about mindful walking can be found here.

There are plenty of other resources available for people wanting to learn more about mindfulness. You might also want to speak with your local library or college for recommendations on books and courses.

You could also visit www.bemindful.co.uk, an online mindfulness resource from the Mental Health Foundation offering information on local courses, research and an online course.