Mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.
This definition from Jon Kabat Zinn is the simplest way to explain what mindfulness is.
Being mindful is about becoming attuned to those moments in your day when the mind wanders from the present experience and fixates on past or future events.
When your mind wanders, it may land on a mundane task such as making your shopping list or a mental to-do list and that’s OK because that’s what minds do. Your mind may wander and bring you fresh perspective on something and that creativity and innovation is wonderful.
However, your mind may take you back to a past event which caused you pain or upset. Or project you forward to worrying about something in the future, which may never happen. This type of mind-wandering is unhelpful – you cannot change what has happened in the past and you cannot know with certainty what will happen in the future – all that over-thinking is, at best, wasted energy and, at worst, harmful to your physical and mental health.
Practicing mindfulness enables you to notice more quickly when your mind has wandered and bring it back, without judgement, to your present felt experience.
Mindfulness has physical and mental health benefits which have been demonstrated in an increasing number of clinical studies. There is evidence from adult MRI brain scanning that after 8 weeks of sustained mindfulness practice, there is an increased capacity in the brain for regulating emotions and a decreased capacity for stress reactivity. In effect, your brain becomes more skilful at handling emotional reactions and dealing with the tricky situations that life throws at you. Mindfulness enables you to cultivate acceptance of your experience, whether pleasant, unpleasant or somewhere in between.
Research shows you spend almost 50% of your time lost in your head
Imagine if that time were spent more productively?
You re-live past events, thinking about what you should have done or could have said. You project forward into the future, worrying about what might happen. Almost half your time thinking about something you cannot change or may never arise – what a lot of lost minutes!
If you perpetually think about past events, you can increase your own stress levels, especially if those events were unhappy or painful. There is no benefit to be gained from relentlessly raking over old ground.
Catastrophising about how something may go wrong in the future is also likely to increase your stress hormones – and it may all be for nothing if that imagined future never happens. All the time you are ruminating or worrying, you could be focusing on something happening right now that would benefit from you being more present.
If you learn how to retrain your brain to spend more time focused on the present, on what you can feel and sense right now, then your brain is engaged in that activity and doesn’t wander off to the past or future.
Perception vs Reality
Your brilliant mind, which can process images and sound, innovate, interpret, control movement and body functions is unfortunately exceptionally bad at one very important thing. It cannot distinguish between the real and the imagined, so when you obsess in the past or feel anxious about the future, your body feels the experience as though it were happening right now. You are flooded with cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones which, over time, have negative physical, emotional and psychological effects.
Humans are super over-achievers, or at least, you have become almost brain-washed to believe that this is how you should be. In the current media saturated environment, where you are bombarded constantly with others’ “perfect” lives, it is easy to believe that everyone else is winning at life. Through the rose-tinted lens of social media, other people appear to be happier, have better jobs, cars, houses, take more expensive holidays and so on. These unreal lives can have a damaging effect on you if you feel that you don’t measure up.
Despite realising that people only post a small snapshot (the happy, successful part) of their lives, you can start to feel that your life needs to be fixed. Constantly striving to be better can leave you feeling even worse.
So, what if you simply allow yourself to be, as you are, right now, without judgement?
Regular practice of mindfulness, which is all about being, rather than doing, gives your mind a much-needed break from the relentless need to achieve and compare.
Mindfulness practice, is, just that: practice. There is nothing you need to achieve from the practice; just be present.
This is a liberating feeling – there is no expectation of anything being a certain way, of any goal being reached. Simply being; that’s all there is to it.
Mindfulness is incredibly simple. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. Like any skill, it takes practice to feel the benefits. Mindfulness is about using an anchor to the present moment, being fully present in that moment and then moving to the next moment and the next moment.
Your anchor may be your breath, coming in and going out. Your focus is on what it feels like, without trying to change anything at all. Or if that feels uncomfortable, the sense of your feet on the floor, or your bottom on the chair, whatever feels solid and grounded to you.
As you practice mindfulness, you focus your attention on your anchor, moment by moment.
You must expect that your mind will wander because that’s what minds do. And when your mind wanders, your only job is to notice and kindly bring it back to your anchor, without judgement, frustration or anger. Try to behave toward your mind as you would a friend who needs a bit of guidance – with kindness and compassion.
As a beginner, you may need to notice and guide back your wandering mind many times during the session. This is normal and it does not mean that you aren’t “doing mindfulness” correctly. In fact, when you do notice your mind wandering, then you are being mindful. Your goal in learning mindfulness is not to stop thoughts or stop your mind from wandering, but simply to notice and guide it back, respectfully and without judgement.
As you spend more time practicing mindfulness, you may observe that you become quicker at noticing the mind has wandered again. This is how we know that we are becoming more skilful at mindfulness.
Gradually over time, you will be able to integrate mindfulness into your everyday life rather than just during a scheduled mindfulness practice and this is when you will start to reap the huge benefits that mindfulness offers.
After 8 weeks of sustained practice, studies show that adults attending mindfulness courses for wellbeing and stress reduction experienced a range of benefits.
These included, but were not limited to:
Reductions in –
reactivity to stress
conflict at work
Increases in –
ability to recover from bad news faster
Here’s what one recent client said:
‘During the 8 weeks I have experienced reduced stress, reduced reactivity to frustrations, lower anxiety, reduction in irritability, better relationships with family, ability to notice more quickly when I need to take a break from work, increased enjoyment in the simpler things in life, ability to cope better with my migraines, reduction in the impact of my tinnitus, better sleep, a general increase in positivity.
Of course, the benefits of mindfulness do not switch on like a light simply by attending the course. To make changes, we have to work at it.
Lucy provides easy to access science behind the benefits and unwavering support and encouragement to help you embed practice into your life. If you are a human 😊, I urge you to take this course, because all humans should be trained in this simple technique.’
Mindfulness does not claim to be a cure for anything, rather it is a technique which enables you to notice more quickly when your mind is no longer present and to short-circuit the unhelpful patterns of behaviour which keep you fixated on the past and prophesizing about the future.
When difficult thoughts or emotions do arise, mindfulness teaches us to allow those thoughts and feelings to be present and to just see if we can be OK with it. You may have heard the phrase “what we resist, persists”, so by allowing the challenging emotions, by not trying to push them away, you may find that they become less intense and you can be alongside them, knowing that it is always OK to turn away if things become too difficult.
Presence of Mind works with businesses, schools, community settings and individuals offering off the shelf or bespoke mindfulness courses for wellbeing.
The sessions can be accessed in a variety of ways:
The introduction sessions provide the complete beginner with an idea of the benefits of mindfulness and how to practice mindful meditation.
Online group practices
These sessions are for those who have completed a taster session or a group course to help embed mindfulness practice into everyday life. Book here: https://bookwhen.com/presenceofmind
The 8 week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course takes a beginner through the science behind the practice, introduces a range of different practices and provides encouragement and support to practice mindfulness regularly to begin to reap the many benefits.
These can be tailored for Businesses and Community Groups to suit requirements and budgets.
“This course won’t just help you now but for as long as you practice. Once you start practicing and see the difference you’ll want to keep it up. It’s the best thing I’ve done for me. ”
“Mindfulness is such a wonderful tool to have, it allows you to be present and mindfully respond to situations. It gives you time to think before you react and you won’t believe how powerful that is. Lucy has a gift in the way she trains and within eight weeks you can be actively using the tools”
“The course was amazing. Totally much more than I have expected. It had a practical toolkit to manage both stress and the wider way of running my thoughts and life. I would be inclined to redo the course even though I have done it already.”
“I can honestly say that this course has changed my life. Mindfulness is not a quick fix and Lucy made that very clear from the beginning. I am not suddenly a brand new person who never worries, never feels sad and sits under a Bodhi tree in a state of Zen all day! But I do feel like I now have the tools I need to manage myself more effectively and for the first time (probably ever) I like myself and I will be forever grateful for taking this time for myself. Thank you Lucy.”
“This course will improve your life forever. I wish I had done it in my 20’s ”