What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been the subject of growing attention and interest in recent years, thanks to a rapidly expanding evidence base demonstrating that it can be helpful for many mental and physical health problems, as well as for improving well-being more generally.
Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences. It involves paying attention to our thoughts and feelings so we become more aware of them, less enmeshed in them, and better able to manage them.
Mindfulness originates from the Buddhist contemplative tradition. It has been described as an, “awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”
Mindfulness is a way of being which involves bringing awareness to the unfolding of present experience, moment to moment, with curiosity, openness and acceptance. It is not a set of techniques to be learned to escape unpleasant feelings, a "relaxation exercise," or a goal to be reached, but rather an approach to life that can help you respond more skilfully even when challenging experiences do occur. It has been described as “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis” (Marlatt & Kristeller, 1999). It involves a process of becoming more aware and accepting towards all your experiences including the unpleasant ones. This takes on-going practice and commitment. It may seem counterintuitive at first, because it involves the idea of allowing and turning towards unpleasant experience, rather than trying to get rid of it control it.
Mindfulness can be described as the practice of being present with the immediate experiences of our lives of cultivating through the self-regulation of attention on immediate experience.
The practice of mindfulness offers a means to directly observe the nature of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations and the ways in which they either contribute to happiness, or to suffering. Attention is directed to the examination of all experience as it arises in the present moment. It is not a passive process but rather a kindhearted and intentional engagement of wakefulness. With sustained practice, it is possible to see the many ways we get hijacked by wishing things to be different from what is actually present. As a result of continuing effort, energy and patience, this “awareness” presents the possibility of less reliance on self-absorbed thinking, emotions and behaviours and wider choices especially when presented with stressful situations or difficulties. Central to this practice is the capacity to inhibit secondary appraisals (Segal, Williams & Teasdale, 2002), and to return one’s attention to the present moment when distracted (Bishop et al., 2004).
Mindfulness interventions aim to teach us how to accept our thoughts without unhelpfully identifying with them. When people practise Mindfulness, they are encouraged not to aim for a particular result but simply to “do it, and see what happens”. That is, phenomena that enter the individual’s awareness during mindfulness practice, such as perceptions, cognitions, emotions, or sensations, are observed carefully but are not evaluated as good or bad, true or false, healthy or sick, or important or trivial (Marlatt & Kristeller, 1999). Thus, mindfulness is the nonjudgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimuli as they arise. Until recently, mindfulness has been a relatively unfamiliar concept in much of our culture (Kabat-Zinn, 1982)
Evidence for Mindfulness
Mindfulness approaches have been proven to be effective in a wide range of mental and physical health applications. Mindfulness generally supports health promotion and prevention of ill health. Mindfulness programmes have achieved significant reductions in symptoms and relapse rates in mental ill health and there is evidence that Mindfulness interventions can directly benefit physical health by improving immune system response, speeding healing, and inducing a sense of physical well-being.