Mindfulness is definitely a popular therapy at the moment and seems to be prescribed for just about anything and everything. However there is confusion between mindfulness and meditation. The two are distinctly different; you have to be mindful to meditate but you don’t need to meditate to do mindfulness. When teaching mindfulness I often experience clients as being a bit sceptical of the benefits, a regular question I get asked is ‘How is going for a warm bath going to take my distress away?’ It’s a good question and the answer is that it won’t take your distress away.
Let’s go back to the basics, principles and concepts of Zen originate from the Buddhist tradition where behaviour and change was thought of from a spiritual and experiential phenomena. The emphasis is on acceptance of feelings and situations in this moment. Aiming to experience our reality as it is without attaching associations or judgements to it. When we practice mindfulness we are once we can accept ourselves change is then possible.
Mindfulness is purely the process of being present. Often we are caught up in the past ruminating about things we have or have not done, or we are worrying about the future with all the things we do need to do perhaps considering ‘what if’s. The present moment is only there for that one second, we miss out on life if we cannot live presently. We don’t consciously decide to not live in the present, we all get caught up in our own heads focusing on thoughts without stopping to observe how these thoughts are driving our emotions which lead to action (behaviour). We find ourselves often judging our thoughts. If we aren’t present then we are generally lacking awareness, without awareness we will struggle to make changes to our lives.
Mindfulness has proven to reduce stress, improve sleep, reduce emotional vulnerability. It also has various physical health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, chronic pain and alleviating gastrointestinal difficulties. Our mental and physical health go hand in hand so its hardly surprising that by improving one leads to a direct improvement with the other.
Mindfulness is not about doing something perfectly or staying present the entire time as this is not humanly possible. Instead we want to begin by noticing when we drift off and how to we respond to that e.g. are we judging a thought as good/bad/silly? There are loads of mindfulness apps at the moment, my favourite which I use with clients is Head Space as there are lots of different ways to practice mindfulness and the creator and narrator Andy Puddicombe gives a thorough explanation and talks you through it.