Mindfulness – what is it and why would I do it?

Following on from my previous blog I wanted to share with you something that has been helpful in looking after my own mental health and wellbeing.  As the title suggests, it is mindfulness, something which has gained such popularity over the last decades that today it seems that everything includes mindfulness. So, what is mindfulness and why would anyone try it and how would you find out more?

I started learning about Mindfulness by reading a book by Jon Kabat Zinn and others called “The Mindful Way Through Depression – freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness”. The title intrigued me and the writing on the back held such promise, I decided to borrow the book and tried my first practise. It didn’t go well; however my interest was caught, and I later signed up for an eight week course and that was when I began learning how to incorporate mindfulness into both my work and my life.

What is Mindfulness?

At its simplest mindfulness is about being aware. My favourite description is from “The Little Mindfulness workbook” by Gary Hennessey, where he quotes Dharmachari Bodhipatsha

“Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience”.

It is about learning to be in the present moment, and we do this by having something to focus our attention on. You can use a lot of different things, the most common one that is used in mindfulness training is to focus on the breath. However, for some people especially those with a history of trauma, that can prove difficult as can the other option, noticing sensations in our body. Choose one that works for you, drawing, walking, movement are other options. Any activity can become mindful, what we focus on is the activity we are engaged in. One of the first exercises in the Gary Hennessey book is to drink a cup of tea mindfully, to notice the smell of the tea, the warmth of the cup and the taste of the liquid. It isn’t long before we become aware of thinking about something else or not liking slowing down or any number of other distractions. We become aware of our busy distracted mind; we are learning what it is like to be me in this moment.

The other important element is the attitude we bring towards ourselves, and it is not too long before that critical voice we all carry speaks, and sometimes shouts at us. We are invited to be gentle with ourselves and as we practise we may notice how challenging that is. Mindfulness is also about intention, about choosing to slow down and notice, it is actively taking time out to check out how we are, both emotionally, mentally and physically. How often have you been so engrossed in an activity you aren’t aware of aches and pains or that you have been sitting or lying awkwardly?

So that is a brief introduction to mindfulness which, as Sharon Salzberg says, is simple but not easy. It is a practice and like any other new skill we are learning it takes time. We won’t find the benefits after a single session, just like we wouldn’t after a single session at the gym. Over time and with regular practise the benefits can reveal themselves, and mindfulness can become a supportive part of our self-care routine.

The Benefits

As you start to practice you may notice things about yourself. Sometimes this is during a formal practise, often it isn’t. Different people notice different things, you may notice a change in your general awareness, or how busy your mind can be, including the kind of thoughts you are having. Slowly you understand that thoughts aren’t facts and learn you don’t need to believe the negative thoughts we all have about ourselves and our lives.

Another thing we begin to be aware of is living on autopilot. While this is a necessary and useful skill, it can also cause us problems. The statistics show, for most people we live about 10 years of our lives on autopilot, and this can have a negative impact. How does it impact us negatively? When we are on autopilot we are reacting from habit, that can be to people, events or even the weather and we don’t notice. Our reactions may not be how we would choose or want to respond. We can have a habit of anxious thoughts and our bodies can react by putting us under continual stress and we aren’t aware, we don’t notice that we keep going to the kitchen for that next coffee or find driving to be a stressful experience.

With awareness comes choice and we can notice and choose to respond differently and think differently. This can allow us to have more compassion and look after ourselves in a difficult situation. One of the aspects of mindfulness that I like the most is that you can’t get it wrong, mindfulness is about noticing what is, and not judging what you find. It takes some time to get your head around the concept that mindfulness is not about rigidly keeping your attention fixed and getting annoyed when it strays. The moment you notice your mind has wandered as they say is a moment of mindfulness.

Mindfulness helps:

  • Depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disorders
  • Prevent relapse with adddictions
  • Childbirth
  • Eating disorders
  • Sports performance

I could list more, how do you think mindfulness could help you?

Mindfulness and Therapy

As a Counsellor because of my personal practice, I am what is known as a Mindfulness Informed Therapist. This means I use my own mindfulness practice to be present and notice both myself and the person I am with. I may invite you to notice or try a simple meditation practise if you feel that would be useful. My mindfulness practise allows me to be with someone without the distractions that are often present when we are with others in the course of our daily lives. Some people want to have a sense of what a practise might be before they sign up for a course. During the course of our sessions, you may want to explore if mindfulness might be something you would like to use to support your own mental health and well-being.

How to do it?

One of the benefits of the increasing popularity of mindfulness is that there are so many ways to learn about it, and the invitation is to choose what works best for you. You may want to take a course, in which case you might want to check https://bamba.org.uk/ which lists different providers. There are also a number of people who offer videos on line through you tube or other platforms. There are also numerous books, you can browse in a book shop and see which one appeals.

The teachers I have found helpful are as follows:

Vidyamala Burch – Breathworks

Tara Brach

Sharon Salsberg

JacK Kornfield

There are so many more, however what I would say is to find someone who you can relate to, who you feel understands where you are coming from.

I will leave you with this thought by Danna Faulds, get in touch if you think you would like to explore mindfulness through a therapy session with me.

“It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that, something in me settles, softens makes space for imperfection. The harsh voice of judgement drops to a whisper, and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race, that we will all cross the finish line, that waking up to life is what we are born for”

Brigid Errington

Brigid Errington

Brigid Errington is an experienced BACP accredited counsellor providing online and in person therapy to adults and young people over the age of 13. She is currently working at Holt Consulting Rooms