You have probably come across the term mindfulness at some point, as it has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. However, mindfulness has been around for thousands of years and it’s now used in various Eastern and Western practices, including psychological therapy!

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the skill of paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.

It is noticing, observing and describing your sensory experiences, participating fully in your experience to notice/observe all characteristics of it.

And having an accepting, non-judgemental attitude towards your experience; that is, there’s nothing to be fixed, nothing to be changed, you’re simply allowing your experience to be your experience without needing it to be anything else.

Often, we live our lives on automatic pilot. We are going through the motions, but we’re not really present or paying attention, and your mind could be wandering anywhere and everywhere, you might be completely zoned out, or even miss your turn as you’re driving.

Being preoccupied is the opposite of mindfulness, and it can keep us stuck in unhelpful behavioural, emotional and thinking habits.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Mindfulness can help you take control of your mind. How much time do you spend thinking about the past, the present or the future? Often, we get caught up in our thoughts reliving things from the past or worrying about the future, and typically this is not an enjoyable experience. Through practice, mindfulness can help you take control back and give you the option to think in the past, present or future. 

Mindfulness helps you live in the present moment, and when you are focusing on the present you can get the most out of life, and you only have whatever is happening in the present moment to deal with. 

Mindfulness increases awareness of our internal experience; that is, it improves our awareness of our thoughts, physical sensations and emotions.

Mindfulness improves emotion regulation. Increased awareness of internal experience and a non-judgmental attitude of acceptance towards this experience serve as emotion regulation skills. Emotion regulation is vital in taking control of our behaviours in difficult moments, instead of acting on emotions or urges. When you’re living in the present, you only have to cope with what’s happening in the present.

Mindfulness strengthens memory and concentration. Mindfulness helps you learn to notice when your mind has wandered and return it to the present moment; thus, you have better concentration. Living in the present moment means we are more engaged in life and more likely to have stronger memories.

Mindfulness can be relaxing. Although not intended to be a relaxation tool, people often find mindfulness relaxing.

Practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness is a skill. As such, it takes effort, time, and ongoing practice.

Mindfulness can be practised in various ways.

Many guided mindfulness meditation practices can be found online, in books or through apps. Below is a simple mindfulness breathing exercise that you can practice over any length of time.

Simple mindfulness breathing exercise:

  1. Get into a comfortable position.
  2. Either close your eyes or gently focus on a spot on the floor in front of you.
  3. Pay attention to your breathing, noticing the air as it moves in and out of the body, and the gentle rise and fall of your chest.
  4. If you get distracted from the breath, simply notice where your mind went, and without judgement, return to focusing on your breathing.

You can also practice mindfulness using everyday activities, for example, making the bed, having a shower, eating, drinking, washing the dishes, walking, playing with a pet, drawing, colouring-in.

Focus entirely on what you are doing and notice any sounds, sights, smells, tastes, body sensations and sensations of touch or movement that are present. And again, with any mindfulness practice, if you get distracted, just notice where your mind went and without judgement, return your attention to your mindfulness practice.

Written by Dr Rachael Sim, Clinical Psychologist

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