What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a secular practice derived from ancient Buddhist meditation practices, which pre-date the 5th Century BC. Mindfulness is taken from the Eight Fold Path within Buddhism. The first secular Mindfulness programme was introduced by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. Inspired by his personal experience of Zen Buddhism, Jon Kabat-Zinn adapted some of the techniques to help patients suffering with chronic pain, anxiety and drug abuse to manage these difficulties.
The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over, is the very root of judgement, character and will. No one is master of oneself if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.
William James (1890)
What are the benefits?
Neurobiologists are learning that mindfulness practice changes the brain structure and function in meaningful, desirable ways. Studies indicate that maintaining a consistent Mindfulness Meditation regime can alleviate many ‘psychological difficulties, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders and interpersonal disorders’ (Siegel, 2014). Other benefits include a significant reduction in the stress hormone Cortisol – a pernicious, health robbing biochemical – and enhanced neurological functioning.
Mindfulness Meditation has also been shown to improve cognitive performance by enhancing the practitioner’s powers of attention. But as a desirable skill, one which we should all endeavour to cultivate, it seems to have been long overlooked. Attention ‘is a crucial skill for understanding and relating to reality, by avoiding being distracted or fooled by the superficial appearance of things’ (Kingsland, 2016).
How to do it?
Mindful breathing and the body scan are typically performed sitting or lying down. However, mindful walking can be done on the move. The beauty of mindfulness is that you can do it anywhere or anytime. The anchor or your focus doesn’t have to be just your breath but part of your body or something in the environment.
Below is some tips to help get you started:
Find a quiet space (if possible)
Remove any distractions e.g. mobile phone
Getting yourself into a comfortable position on cushion or on a chair
Resting your hands on your lap
Closing your eyes
Following a guided meditation audio or trying your own practice