What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is quite a simple concept really; it’s all about paying attention to your thoughts and what’s going on around you in a non-judgemental way. Just being, effectively. Not being distracted and just accepting what is going on.
Why is mindfulness only starting to be talked about now?
It’s been around for years; it’s been around since the 60’s actually. I think nowadays it’s because of the way we live. We live in such a fast-paced environment that everyone needs to do everything all at the same time, and that’s not healthy for us. I think that’s the reason it’s being used a lot more now. It has been used in therapy for years though, for CBT etc., but it has become its own therapy now.
So is it about being in touch with your emotions, as well as your external environment?
Yes, exactly. So if you were doing some kind of mindfulness practice and started feeling guilty for something, you don’t then judge yourself for feeling guilty, you just let the guilt be and then it will pass.
Nowadays there seem to be a lot of rules about how you should feel and act, is mindfulness linked to that?
100%. I think a lot of these ‘rules’ are linked to social media. On social media you see everyone posting their good sides and everything that is going well for them, and people see that and think that is how their lives have to be every single day. People then start beating themselves up and that’s not healthy. If you do choose to use social media and start feeling these emotions, mindfulness teaches you not to judge yourself for those feelings and just accept them and move on.
So how can we actually be more mindful?
There are many ways. You can do mindful practices. If you were doing an activity, like eating for example, it would simply be paying attention to how the food looks, how it smells, how it feels. Then when you take a bite it would be exploring what it feels like and tastes like in your mouth, and then taking another and seeing how that changes. Just focusing on that one piece of food, and not thinking about anything else, is a great way to be more mindful.
Then there are some simple exercises you can do when you are out walking. One is called the five-finger approach. Essentially, you notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things that you can smell, two things that you can feel, and one that you can taste. It draws you into the moment and focuses you on the things around you. It reduces stress.
Your research was focused on mental illness, but can mindfulness also benefit those with supposedly ‘healthy’ minds?
Yes, definitely. Even though you might not have depression or diagnosed stress or anxiety, everyone goes through tough times or stress at some point. Whether that is linked to university work or professional work, practising mindfulness reduces the level of stress that puts on you. Anyone can use it, and everyone will benefit from being more mindful. People also tend to be happier when they are mindful.
For someone who has never practised mindfulness before, what advice would you give to someone who wants to start?
Generally paying attention to what is going on in your immediate environment is the first step. If you’ve ever had a shower and then stepped out and thought, ‘What have I actually just seen, or what have I just done?’, then maybe you’re not being mindful enough. You can choose a daily activity, maybe just once a day, like cooking your breakfast. Then actively choose to be mindful in that moment. Pay attention to everything: the sounds, the smells, the tastes. Just do that and you’ll gradually recognise that there are so many things that you miss in life when you’re not paying attention. That’s a good starting point.
by Charlie Metcalfe
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