Mindfulness is a practice based on Buddhist philosophy that has been studied and applied in a wide variety of contexts with great success. Find out how and why as we ask 5 questions about mindfulness.
- Mindfulness is a way to bring yourself to the present moment, reducing the effects of stress, anxiety and depressive feelings.
- It has roots in Buddhist philosophy and has been widely researched since the 1970’s.
- It works by combatting the tendency to compulsively think of our problems.
- It has been effectively used in many different settings, from preschools to warzones.
- Mindfulness meditation is not difficult to learn and can be practiced daily for better results.
What is it?
Mindfulness is a process of bringing your mind to the present by paying attention to your moment to moment experiences. It is a state that can be practiced through different types of meditation, drawing on ancient roots in Buddhist philosophy and tradition. Mindfulness captured the interest of psychologists in the early 1970’s and has become one of the most widely researched areas in modern psychology. It is considered a type of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) as they both pay attention to how and what we think and how these thoughts impact our day to day experiences.
Where does it come from?
The words “all phenomena are preceded by the mind” have been attributed to Buddha and suggest that in order to fully understand the world, we need to understand our minds first. Buddhist philosophy suggests that through this understanding, we are able to develop self-knowledge and wisdom on the path to enlightenment or freedom from suffering. Buddhist teachings around acceptance and compassion for ourselves have shaped our understanding of mindfulness and remain important parts of its modern day use. They are brought together by the practice of being in the present and non-judgementally acknowledging intrusive thoughts before returning to experiencing our world.
How does it work?
Psychologists know that people are likely to experience anxiety, stress or feel depressed at some stage of their lives and in varying degrees. We’ve all experienced states in which we simply feel uneasy, where there is a constant undertone of sadness or when it can be hard to turn our brain off. Researchers noticed that all these experiences share a common trait: the tendency to compulsively think about our problems. Since practicing mindfulness teaches us that worrying thoughts cause a great deal of our suffering, it is a valuable piece in the puzzle of understanding better ways of functioning in such a stressful world.
Who can use it?
Anyone! Mindfulness has been put to use in variety of ways. Psychologists have studied its effects on attention in students, stress in business people, performance in athletes and how it can be applied to trauma while working with refugees. It has shown to be an effective treatment for anxiety and depression as well as other issues like addiction. Some other possible health benefits include lowering blood pressure, aiding brain plasticity and even moderating pain.
How do I do it?
Mindfulness is easy to explain but might need some practice to get the hang of it. To give it a good shot, you need a time when your attention is not required by someone or something else. You could use the time while you brush your teeth, wash the dishes or take the bus. You can also just set aside 5 minutes to sit on a couch or lie on a bed.
The first part of mindfulness is paying attention to your thoughts and sensations: feel your weight pushing into the couch, the sway of the bus or the taste of your toothpaste. Let your attention explore your surroundings through your senses. You can also simply focus on your breathing.
Often our minds will begin to turn inwards again – we start to think of think of other things like school, work or family. It might be surprising how easily our attention can be swept away to other matters. The second part of mindfulness is noticing when our attention wanders beyond what we are experiencing right now and gently nudge it back to the present. This is best done in a non-judgemental manner, meaning that we shouldn’t be upset with ourselves for being distracted. Just come back to the now and refocus.
Some like to imagine intrusive thoughts as clouds that slowly float away after they are acknowledged. With a bit of practice, you might develop your own method for gently and compassionately bringing you back to simply being.
If you have practiced mindfulness meditation before, share your best tips. If it has been a new experience for you, tell us how it went!
If psychology interests you, you may wish to explore the subject on a deeper level. SACAP offers a range of psychology courses that can help pave the way for a career in psychology. The study of psychology, as well as being a fascinating subject in its own right, hones skills that will be of service to you in any number of career paths, For more information about studying at SACAP, enquire now.