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Alex's Blog: what is mindfulness?

Welcome to Mind in Harrow volunteer Alex's new blog! In these posts Alex will be talking about various aspects of mental health, starting with mindfulness and how it can change the way you think and feel, particularly how you approach stressful experiences.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the present moment. It is a practice that groups and individuals can use in their daily lives to alter the way they think and feel about their experiences. Mindfulness is an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually anytime and can quickly bring lasting results. Many studies have demonstrated the potential benefits of mindfulness.

[Mindfulness is] the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience.

– John Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is a skill that grows the more you practise, but please keep in mind that, due to individual differences, it may not be effective for everyone.  If you have a diagnosed mental health condition, it is important that you consult your mental health professional before undertaking any mindfulness practice. Mindfulness practice is not always recommended for certain diagnoses and may require careful monitoring. Please note that mindfulness should not act as a replacement for your recommended treatment plan.

If you would like to read more about mindfulness, you can read Mind's Making sense of mindfulness booklet online here or request a printed copy from Mind in Harrow.

Why practise mindfulness?

Mindfulness can help you to distance yourself from difficult thoughts and feelings and allowing them to seem more manageable. In 2011 the BBC and Action for Happiness partnered up to produce Happiness Challenge, a documentary in which volunteers try out a few simple daily mindfulness tasks that could potentially increase their happiness, based on findings from the latest scientific research. It was found that they felt happier at the end of their journey and made the decision to continue the tasks as part of their daily routine.

Benefits of mindfulness

Some of the benefits of mindfulness include:

  • Managing pain
  • Increasing positive emotions such as calmness and peace
  • Reducing depression
  • Decreasing anxiety
  • Developing compassion
  • Improving your ability to regulate your emotions
  • Increasing your focus and attention

My experience of mindfulness

My mother introduced me to meditation when I was in my teens. It helped me keep my mind collected, especially before school examinations and during medical procedures. Through mindfulness I can focus my attention away from the issue or just remain in the present. It has increased my compassionate feelings too – I remember finding it hard to relate to other people in school, but now I can easily put myself in someone else’s shoes such as patients in the hospital I used to work, my family or partner. This means I can resolve any issues or conflict between us much quicker and more efficiently than before. However, these changes did not come all at once – they came with years of practice.

My favourite exercise is simply observing my thoughts as it does not require any extra resources. It is interesting to see how your thoughts float and move different directions. I usually visualise my thoughts to be gently travelling away on a green leaf in a stream of water, which is particularly helpful when difficult thoughts enter into my mind. Additionally, it is interesting to see how some thoughts can directly affect your behaviour and emotions.

Because of mindfulness, I feel I am a calmer, more level-headed individual. In the past few months I have been practising regularly to see if my immunity would increase. Previously I had been falling ill a lot, but I haven't since starting this practice, which has really improved my quality of life. It is hard to tell if this improvement has been due to mindfulness or other factors, but I would like to think it is at least partly a benefit of my regular mindfulness practice.

I want to try and share the gift of mindfulness to everyone, so they too can reap its benefits!