Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice which is very relevant for life
Mindfulness is a very simple concept. Mindfulness means paying attention in a
particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.
This increases awareness, clarity and acceptance of our present-moment
does not conflict with any beliefs or tradition, religious, cultural or
scientific. It is simply a practical way to notice thoughts, physical
sensations, sights, sounds, smells - anything we might not normally notice.
The actual skills might be simple, but because it is so different to how our
minds normally behave, it takes a lot of practice.
I might go out into the garden and as I look
around, I think "that grass really needs cutting, and that vegetable patch looks
very untidy". My young daughter on the other hand, will call over
excitedly, "Mummy - come and look at this ant!" Mindfulness can simply be
noticing what we don't normally notice, because our heads are too busy in the
future or in the past - thinking about what we need to do, or going over what we
Being mindful helps us to train our
attention. Our minds wander about 50% of the time, but every time we
practise being mindful, we are exercising our attention "muscle" and becoming
mentally fitter. We can take more control over our focus of attention, and
choose what we focus on...rather than passively allowing our attention to be
dominated by that which distresses us and takes us away from the present moment.
Mindfulness might simply be described as choosing
and learning to control our focus of attention.
In a car, we can sometimes
drive for miles on “automatic pilot”, without really being aware of what we are
doing. In the same way, we may not be really “present”, moment-by-moment, for
much of our lives: We can often be “miles away” without knowing it.
On automatic pilot, we are
more likely to have our “buttons pressed”: Events around us and thoughts,
feelings and sensations in the mind (of which we may be only dimly aware) can
trigger old habits of thinking that are often unhelpful and may lead to
By becoming more aware of
our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give
ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice; we do not have to go
into the same old “mental ruts” that may have caused problems in the past.
When I wash the dishes each
evening, I tend to be "in my head" as I'm doing it, thinking about what I have
to do, what I've done earlier in the day, worrying about future events, or
regretful thoughts about the past. Again, my young daughter comes along.
"Listen to those bubbles Mummy. They're fun!" She reminds me often to be
more mindful. Washing up is becoming a routine (practice of) mindful
activity for me. I notice the temperature of the water and how it feels on my
skin, the texture of the bubbles on my skin, and yes, I can hear the bubbles as
they softly pop continually. The sounds of the water as I take
out and put dishes into the water. The smoothness of the plates, and the
texture of the sponge. Just noticing what I might not normally notice.
A mindful walk brings new pleasures. Walking
is something most of us do at some time during the day. We can practice, even
if only for a couple of minutes at a time, mindful walking. Rather than be
"in our heads", we can look around and notice what we see, hear, sense. We
might notice the sensations in our own body just through the act of walking.
Noticing the sensations and movement of our feet, legs, arms, head and body as
we take each step. Noticing our breathing. Thoughts will
continuously intrude, but we can just notice them, and then bring our attention
back to our walking.
The more we practice, perhaps the more,
initially at least, we will notice those thoughts intruding, and that's ok.
The only aim of mindful activity is to continually bring our attention back to
the activity, noticing those sensations, from outside and within us.
focus in Mindfulness Meditation is
the breathing. However, the primary goal is a
calm, non-judging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go
without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.
Sit comfortably, with
your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight.
Direct your attention
to your breathing.
emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them,
giving them the space to come and go without judging or getting involved with
When you notice that
your attention has drifted off and becoming caught up
in thoughts or feelings,
simply note that the attention has drifted, and then gently bring
the attention back to your breathing.
It's ok and natural for thoughts to arise, and for
your attention to follow them. No matter how many times this happens, just keep
bringing your attention back to your breathing.
MINDFUL BREATHING mp3
Female voice, without music. 5 mins 30 £1
MINDFUL BREATHING mp3
Male voice, with music.
MINDFUL BREATHING mp3
Female voice, with music.
22 mins. £2.50
Assume a comfortable
posture lying on your back or sitting. If you are sitting, keep the spine
straight and let your shoulders drop.
Close your eyes if it
Bring your attention to
your belly, feeling it rise or expand gently on the inbreath and fall or recede
on the outbreath.
Keep your focus on the
breathing, “being with” each inbreath for its full duration and with each
outbreath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own
Every time you notice that
your mind has wandered off the breath, notice what it was that took you away and
then gently bring your attention back to your belly and the feeling of the
breath coming in and out.
If your mind wanders away
from the breath a thousand times, then your “job” is simply to bring it back to
the breath every time, no matter what it becomes preoccupied with.
Practice this exercise
for fifteen minutes at a convenient time every day, whether you feel like it or
not, for one week and see how it feels to incorporate a disciplined meditation
practice into your life. Be aware of how it feels to spend some time each day
just being with your breath without having to do anything.
Breathing Meditation 2 (Kabat-Zinn 1996)
Tune into your breathing
at different times during the day, feeling the belly go through one or two
risings and fallings.
Become aware of your
thoughts and feelings at these moments, just observing them without judging them
At the same time, be
aware of any changes in the way you are seeing things and feeling about
to cope with negative experiences (thoughts, feelings, events)
As we become more
practised at using mindfulness for breathing, body sensations and routine daily
activities, so we can then learn to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings, to
become observers, and subsequently more accepting. This results in less
distressing feelings, and increases our level of functioning and ability to
enjoy our lives.
even the most disturbing sensations, feelings, thoughts, and experiences, can be
viewed from a wider perspective as passing events in the mind, rather than as
"us", or as necessarily true. By simply being present in this way, you
support your own deep healing (Brantley 2003).
When we are more
practiced in using mindfulness, we can use it even in times of intense distress,
by becoming mindful of the actual experience as an objective observer, using
mindful breathing and concentrating attention on breathing with the body's
experience, listening to the distressing thoughts mindfully, recognising them as
merely thoughts, breathing with them, allowing them to happen without believing
them or arguing with them. If thoughts are too strong or loud, then we can
move attention to our breath, the body, or to sounds in the environment.
We can use kindness and compassion for ourselves and for the elements of the
body and mind's experience. "May I be filled with peace and ease. May I be
safe" (Brantley 2003).
Jon Kabat-Zinn uses the example of
waves to help explain mindfulness. Think of your mind as the surface of a
lake or an ocean. There are always waves on the water, sometimes big,
sometimes small, sometimes almost imperceptible. The water's waves are
churned up by winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just
as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up waves in our
mind. It's possible to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates
the mind. Whatever we might do to prevent them, the winds of life and of
the mind will blow, do what we may.
"You can't stop the waves, but
you can learn to surf" (Kabat-Zinn 2004).
MOUNTAIN MEDITATION mp3
Male voice, without music.
15 mins £1.50
MOUNTAIN MEDITATION mp3
Female voice, without music.
11 mins 15s
MOUNTAIN MEDITATION mp3
Male voice, with music. 16 mins. £2.50
skills, it is usually recommended that we start start practising mindfulness of
the breath, then mindfulness of the body, before moving on to mindfulness of
The Leaves in the Stream metaphor is often used
as an exercise to help us distance ourselves from our almost constant stream of
thoughts. To stand back and observe our thoughts rather than get caught up
in them. We can notice that thoughts are simply thoughts, passing streams
of words that we don't need to react to, we can just notice them.
Whilst sitting quietly, bring your focus to your
breath, then start to notice the thoughts that come into your mind. As you
notice each thought, imagine putting those words onto a leaf as it floats by on
a stream. Put each thought that you notice onto a leaf, and watch it drift
on by. There's no need to look for the thoughts, or to remain alert
waiting for them to come. Just let them come, and as they do, place them
onto a leaf.
Your attention will wander, particularly so at
first, and that's okay - it's what our mind does. As soon as you notice
your mind wandering, just gently bring your focus back to the thoughts, and
placing them onto the leaves.
After a few minutes, bring your attention back to
your breath for a moment, then (open your eyes and) become more aware of your
Clouds in the Sky
Some prefer using clouds in the sky rather
than leaves in the stream for mindfulness of thoughts. When you notice a
thought come into your mind, just put the thought on a cloud as it drifts across
the sky or dissipates.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
Mindfulness Based Stress
Reduction (MBSR) was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn (1996), and Mindfulness Based
Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has also been developed (Segal, Williams & Teasdale
2002) with the aim of reducing relapse and recurrence for those who are
vulnerable to episodes of depression. There is a body of evidence to show that
MBSR is effective in a wide variety of stress-related conditions, and that MBCT
is effective in reducing the frequency and severity of relapse following
People who have completed
Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR programme report:
in physical and psychological symptoms
ability to relax
•Reductions in pain
levels and an enhanced ability to cope with pain that may not go away
•Greater energy and
enthusiasm for life
•An ability to cope
more effectively with both short and long-term stressful situations.
The aim of
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is to increase
awareness so that we can respond to situations with choice. (Segal, Williams and Teasdale