Mindfulness is about learning to train your attention to the present moment without dwelling on what has happened in the past or worrying about what will happen in the future.
It has worked its way into modern day therapy and can be practiced in other non-therapy forms such as yoga and meditation.
What is mindfulness?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School:
“Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”
It is about training your attention to be able to rest in the present moment. Thoughts about the past and future are acknowledged without necessarily being focused on. In this way, you can avoid being caught up in dwelling on the past or worrying about the future and can instead truly experience life as it happens.
The word mindfulness can be used to refer to both the state of being mindful as described above and the daily practices (eg meditation) that help to bring it about.
History of mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness has been applied to human consciousness for thousands of years with origins in Eastern philosophy over the past 40 years, however, it has taken root in Western societies.
In addition to people using it daily, in forms such as meditation and yoga, it has been incorporated into many types of therapy including:
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), developed out of MBSR as a way to treat and prevent depression.
Awareness, attention and mindfulness
Mindfulness involves paying attention to certain stimuli and disregarding others.
In relation to thoughts, our minds participate in habitual thinking. This means it goes to places and thoughts that we usually think of out of habit. Our minds go to these thoughts simply because they have not been trained to focus differently.
Mindfulness training allows you more control over where your thoughts become focused.
There are many different types of meditation with the two most common approaches being:
Concentrative meditation: this focuses the attention on the breath, an image, or a sound (mantra), in order to still the mind and minimise thoughts.
Mindfulness meditation: this involves training the attention to become aware of the continuously passing sensations and feelings, thoughts and images that make up your moment to moment experience.
Additionally an attitude of simply ’noticing and letting be’ is cultivated towards what you become aware of.
In mindfulness meditation you learn to remain aware of what is happening and what you’re feeling in that moment, whether you like it, dislike it, or are confused about it.
You increase your tolerance for seeing the unpleasant – neither identifying with it, nor running from it.
>>Try these Mindfulness exercises
Mindfulness and your wellbeing
Practicing mindfulness has benefits to both your psychological health and physical health.
Psychological benefits include:
- decreased anxiety
- decreased depression
- increased coping skills
- decreased irritability and moodiness
- improved learning ability and memory
- increased happiness
- increased emotional stability
- increase ability to effectively manage problems
- improved self-esteem.
Physical benefits include:
- improved breathing
- lower heart rate
- improved circulation
- improved immune function
- reduced physical stress responses
- better sleep
- better management of physical symptoms (eg pain).
Mindfulness and therapy
Due to all the benefits mindfulness has for your health, certain therapies (such as MBSR and MBCT) are incorporating mindfulness into the treatment of patients with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues and physical problems.
Acknowledgement: This article has been reviewed by Dr Kaveh Monshat, Lecturer in Psychiatry – University of Melbourne, Consultant Psychiatrist – Headspace, Southern Melbourne, PhD Candidate – Orygen Youth Health Research Centre.