Mindfulness Practices & Benefits
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003 p. 145).
Put simply it's about being aware of what’s happening, as it’s happing …and not reacting. In involves seeing things how they really are, rather than how we want them to be.
Mindfulness is a practice, backed by science, that can be ‘exercised’ readily in work and life. It’s been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression and boost wellbeing, thinking ability and performance. It’s free, discreet, transportable and versatile. It's an inherent human ability – we all have the inbuilt capacity to regulate our own attention. SAMPLE BRIEF MINDFULNESS EXERCISES.
Mindfulness practices (exercises or meditation) typically invite you to spend time focusing on one particular experience of the body (e.g. the breath) or environment (e.g. sounds) in an open and non-judgmental way and bringing your attention back to this task each time the mind wanders (which is normal). Over time this simple practice becomes easier to master and neurological changes occur in the brain associated with improved mental function and less ‘reactivity’ to stressors and frustrations (and therefore less stress hormones). By practicing mindfulness in this way, we can boost our ability to bring a deliberate and composed focus to other, more demanding, situations in our work, home and life. We can also increase our awareness of the habits of mind and reactions that help or hinder us and help us choose wise actions that serve us, and others, well.
The practice also includes and cultivates four attitudes of mindfulness: Openness; Curiosity; Acceptance; and Compassion.
Benefits of Mindfulness
For the workplace, this can translate as
- Awareness: self-insight, generating wisdom
- Wellbeing: healthier immune response, relaxation, peace, serenity
- Productivity: focus, flexibly, getting things done
- Flow on effects: to compassion, communication, relationships and leadership
- Resilience: a buffer to stress, anxiety, depression
- Courage: “The ability to face up to potentially-challenging situations and…stay there, pay attention on purpose and not react. Instead to respond professionally, by being deliberate in one's actions. Then return to a state of composure and readiness”
You can practice mindfulness meditation every day and regularly using simple exercises, and just using your surroundings and inner experience at the time.
Once familiar with the techniques, you can even practice in noisy and busy environments, at home, play or work – and no one will notice you’re practicing.
Explanation and Tips for Beginners
There are numerous types of mindfulness practices, with variations to instructions. However, as a guide you'll want to look out for exercises like:
- Mindful breathing
- Mindful focus on one particular anchor (such as sounds, breathing, the feet)
- Mindful Body Scan
- Grounding mindfulness
- Noticing and acknowledging passing thoughts and feelings
- Mindfulness in everyday activities (walking, eating, etc)
After trying out a number of techniques you may start with a particular guide, coach or app and then practice regularly (even 5 mins at a time, each day will help) and build up the length of practice time (towards 20-30 mins). Eventually you’ll use variations of the techniques, un-guided, during your day and when you need.
Because Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, without making judgements… the practice of mindfulness will incorporate actions that build on this desired mental task and state.
You will be asked to sit or lie down and take some deep breaths or notice your body posture, to help ground you in the here and now and create an anchor point for practice. There are other ways to do this also.
You will be asked to pay attention to various aspects of your experience, sometimes spending more time on a particular area to zoom in more and notice the detail – including your 5 senses, your sensations, thoughts and emotions/feelings. You will also be asked to shift your attention from aspect to aspect and bring your awareness back to the practice when your mind drifts off.
While you may experience some immediate effects, the aim is longer term mental and emotional stability through regular practice. Some coaches will say to treat every practice like your first.
Because mindfulness also builds on the attitudes of openness, curiosity, compassion and acceptance (attitudes that reduce judgement, struggle and stress), some practices (exercises) will include instructions, such as:
- Letting go of certain things and being open to whatever is present
- Compassionate language and thoughts
- Being curious as if it’s the first time you’ve noticed this aspect of your experience
- Allow room for this, not trying to fix it right now, just notice it as it comes and goes
Sitting up in a chair will help keep you alert and closing your eyes can help you focus, however it’s completely fine to sit on the floor or lie down in a comfortable position and to open or half-close your eyes (with a soft gaze).