Mindfulness is a term now used by many businesses in the health and wellness space. But what exactly is it?
In this post:
- What mindfulness is including three different approaches
- The framework I use as a certified Mindfulness Now teacher and how it could help you
- Some alternatives if mindfulness practice is not right for you
What is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.’ As a teacher, his work from the 1970s has helped bring very practical, experiential methods to the fore. It supports people in a structured way to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In terms of practice, there are significant differences between formal mindfulness (set intentionally) and the informal approach. You can complete intentional mindfulness in either a private or group setting, and it normally involves meditation. In contrast, informal practice is simply paying attention to your awareness in any activity you do. This might be cooking, eating a meal or walking.
Other examples I try to do daily are yoga sequences, mindful walking and slow, deliberate food preparation. I’ve also started to be mindful with my creative academic goals.
Perhaps you could try some of these. Or maybe there’s something you’re already doing that you could be more mindful about.
MBSR and MBCT: two formal approaches to mindfulness
Two formal mindfulness practices are Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Both are structured, 8-week programmes based on specific tasks – eating for example. With each task, rather than doing it without thinking (say gobbling down your meal while checking your emails), you’d introduce conscious thought to the process (getting off your phone and focusing on the textures of each bite perhaps). Both approaches expect you to do homework or practice outside the weekly sessions, so the tasks are designed to be done away from the class.
MBSR and MBCT are both supportive programmes where you learn how to use meditation and how to develop your own home practice. But there are key differences. MBCT has more homework-based assignments but also starts working on the reasons for change sooner. And while MBCT feels more accessible I’ve found MBSR to be more comprehensive overall.
This is why I use both in my practice – the Mindfulness Now approach.
The Mindfulness Now approach
This is an 8-week course combining MBSR and MBCT. The MBSR part helps increase your awareness around managing stress and anxiety (often using creative aspects like poetry), while MBCT introduces cognitive behavioural aspects after week five. Mindfulness Now can help you build resilience and is grounding, using practices like the body scan meditation.
But don’t just take my word for it that mindfulness works. There’s scientific research based on formal practices that have shown it. After only eight weeks of regular mindfulness classes people can (and do) improve their learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self-awareness. Their perspective changes and they reduce their stress levels.
Key takeaway: the seven attributes of mindfulness
These attributes will help you address any difficulties you face, in both thought and action. Taken from John Kabat-Zinn’s insight and MBSR, you can use them in formal and informal practice:
Non-judgement – We collect our own material and conscious baggage. You can release this when you practice mindfulness.
Non-striving – Our western society promotes goal driven behaviour which induces stress and increases blood pressure. You can manage this more effectively when you’re unattached to your achievements.
Patience – By offering loving kindness into your practice you can build patience. You learn this through life experiences.
Trust – When you’re consciously able to trust, there’s more space to let mindfulness in. Then you can examine any mistrust that remains.
Acceptance – Compassion offers you a space to be still. You can be in the here and now by accepting what is.
Beginner’s mind – My favourite because it invites us all to leave the restrictions put upon adults to play. With beginners mind you’re free to investigate what meditation is without anything else getting in the way.
Letting go – The past has gone and the future is nowhere to be found. By letting go it’s easier to forgive and just be with an open mind. While being ‘held’ safely by your therapist.
So is mindfulness practice right for you?
By now you should have an idea what mindfulness is about. But while it’s helpful for many, it’s not suitable for all.
You need to practice regularly and effectively to achieve change. So if you find it hard to take time out or can’t breathe deeply and fully, do seek professional advice.