You may have noticed that “mindfulness” has become a buzz word. If you do an internet search you will find numerous references to it. It has entered mainstream psychology and it is becoming common to find research on mindfulness. On one level it is extremely simple and on another it is very difficult. I am going to try and explain briefly what mindfulness is and then give some indication of where the practice is proving useful.
How do we define mindfulness practices? It is to be aware of the here-and-now. There are practices in many cultures and religions world-wide which have practices which help people to focus their attention. Dan Siegel, an interpersonal neurobiologist, describes mindfulness awareness as not only being reflectively aware in the present, but that we approach our here-and-now experience with curiosity, openness, acceptance and love.
It may be useful to start with a very basic and yet commonly used exercise in mindfulness which you can easily try. All you need to do is make sure that you are sitting upright and that you are comfortable. You can keep your eyes open as long as you remember to blink. Notice how you are sitting in the chair, notice the position of your limbs. Become aware of whether they are comfortable or not. Simply notice. You do not need to react and change anything. Then notice your breathing. Notice how you breathe in and out. Note how it feels. Simply be aware of it. Again, do not change your breathing, just notice the sensations. You may find your mind wondering to other matters; notice and gently bring it back to your breathing. It will be necessarily to do this repeatedly. Do it, always gently and just noticing that your mind wondered. Do not get involved in the thoughts, emotions or sensations. Allow them to pass.
This is just a start – there is much more to mindfulness than a brief exercise.
Why would we bother with training in mindfulness techniques? The research is giving us good reasons, as learning to be mindful helps lower our stress response, gives a general sense of well-being, improving our immune response, help with weight management, help us in approaching learning and education with more openness and curiosity, reduce a subjective sense of suffering, preventing relapse in depression, helping prevent relapse in substance abuse, assist in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder.