What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness has grown in popularity over the last five years, with numerous courses and programs being offered to help people manage their stress and anxiety. You may have heard about mindfulness before through news or social media, but what is mindfulness and how can we incorporate it into our daily lives?

Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what you are doing and noticing your surroundings, thoughts and emotions. When you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing in any given moment, you are being mindful.

In today’s hectic world, it’s easy to get entangled in your thoughts, completing your day-to-day tasks on “auto-pilot” so that you don’t fully notice the things going on around you and how your body is feeling. Stepping out of this sensation and being more “mindful” offers you a chance to slow down and be fully aware of the present moment. Mindfulness also involves letting go of the past and not worrying about the future.

The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as “…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.”

Being mindful takes practice. Some days you may feel that your mind is completely free and at peace, and other days your mind can be filled with so many thoughts that you feel you can’t stop thinking about. It takes time to learn how to control your thoughts and emotions, which is what you will learn from regular mindfulness practices.

Where did mindfulness come from?

Mindfulness can be traced back to 2,500 years ago, to the early teachings of Buddha. One aspect of Buddhism is concentration, which is where the practice of mindfulness arises. It was not until mindfulness was brought to the West, where mindfulness was taken out of the Buddhist context and started being used as a secular, stress-reduction practice.

The greatest advocate of Mindfulness is thought to be Jon Kabat-Zinn: American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn learned about mindfulness from other Buddhist teachers whilst as a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and at the Insight Meditation Society. This helped him develop the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program – an eight-week course aimed to reduce stress. This course was first offered from 1979 and has been gaining popularity rapidly ever since.

 

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Mindfulness has been researched since the 1960’s, but it was only in the late 70’s where the activity of mindfulness was first studied clinically, as a way to improve psychological well-being. 

Years of research has now proven that practising mindfulness regularly can have many  benefits on your mental health and wellbeing. Some benefits include:

  • Improved focus and concentration
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Appetite restoration
  • Improved well-being
  • Improved sleep

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