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What is mindfulness, why bother and how do you do it?

“Every one of us already has the seed of mindfulness. The practice is to cultivate it.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is the skill of noticing in a kindly way, what is happening around and within us in this moment, just as it is now.  It is a practice.

Why bother?

Clinical research has demonstrated that practising mindfulness can have lots of benefits for our health and emotional wellbeing. 

Multi-national companies, for example, have been quick to introduce mindfulness in the workplace as a means of reducing the symptoms of stress and anxiety amongst their employees, but also because of its astonishing capacity to increase creativity.

Educationists have also recognised the virtues of bringing mindfulness into schools and colleges as it teaches the critical foundation skills associated with the learning process including paying attention and maintaining focus.  It also brings, amongst other things, measurable improvements in concentration, memory, and mental clarity.  Furthermore, practising mindfulness increases levels of awareness, thereby giving pupils, students, and adults the opportunity to notice and self-manage challenging thoughts and emotions.  This is clearly important as it allows the possibility of changing unhelpful reactive behaviours into more supportive conscious responses. Indeed, mindfulness is strongly associated with the development of self-compassion and the maintenance of better relationships with others. *

How do you Meditate?

Generally, any meditation can be divided into three steps:

  1. Concentration. The first step of any meditation is to choose something to concentrate on and this could be virtually anything from paying attention to the breath, to performing a dance or even focusing on work.
  • Mindfulness. As you concentrate you will find that the mind will, sooner or later, wander away from its intended focus into dreaming or planning or something else. 

Mindfulness isn’t about having an empty mind but developing the skill of noticing thoughts as they appear in the mind. This is helpful because it provides the opportunity of choice, to engage with a thought or let it go and return to the intended subject of focus. For example, if a particularly creative idea pops into the mind and you spot it, you then have the chance to develop that idea further.  Alternatively, if you become aware of a thought that generates difficult emotions, you can decide to disengage from it and place your attention somewhere that is better for you.

It is also important to realise that when practising mindfulness, there is no intention to stop thoughts. A heathy mind will generate thoughts, that’s what a brain is supposed to do.  Once, however, you recognise that a thought has arrived, then in that moment you are fully awake and aware. You are mindful which is brilliant! The mind may wander for milli seconds or minutes, but once you wake up to where the mind is, you are truly practising mindfulness.

  • Compassion. After you acknowledge where the mind is, you then have the chance to bring the mind back, gently but firmly to the intended focus.  This is done with great kindness and compassion because no mistake has been made. In fact, the busier the mind, the greater the opportunity to practise noticing those thoughts and bringing attention back to the intended focus. 

What do I expect to achieve when I practice Mindfulness?

Perhaps one of the most important and challenging aspects of mindfulness is to have no expectations at all.  This can be difficult as we have been taught to associate any activity with some form of achievable goal, and something that perhaps we can even feel proud of. 

For example, a common misconception about mindfulness is that after a ‘successful’ meditation we ‘should’ feel ‘relaxed’.

Well, if you do relax – FANTASTIC!     If you don’t relax – FANTASTIC!

The truly valuable thing that you may have discovered from practising mindfulness is a better awareness of how you are in this moment which in turn allows you to look after yourself and those around you with greater understanding and kindness.

Common questions about Mindfulness

Do I have to believe in something?

Although many of the great religions of the world have aspects of meditation or contemplation, modern mindfulness courses are purely secular in approach.  So, no prior beliefs are required.

Do I have to sit down in a lotus position in order to practise?

No, thank goodness.  Simply adopt a position that allows you to feel alert and comfortable.  An upright chair is fine, although you can practise mindfulness lying down, walking about, running or whatever.


This ‘3-step guide’ can be used on long practices or short, so perhaps try the following short practice. Remember, however, no expectations!

Take five conscious breaths…

As you breath in, feel the movement of air as it flows from the tip of your nose, all the way down deep into your body.  And on the out breath sense the returning air moving easily and effortlessly away.

Perhaps feel the chest and abdomen rising on each in breath and falling back with the out breath.

Just letting the body breathe naturally, no need to force or control anything.

And as thoughts arise, notice them as best you can, perhaps with a sense of ‘success’ at being mindful and then choose to let them go and return with kindness to feeling the next breath.

At the end of your fifth breath, stop and then continue mindfully into the rest of your day.

*Weare, K.W. (April 2012). Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People. The Mindfulness in Schools Project in association with University of Exeter. Mood Disorders Centre

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