What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about being fully aware of living, right now, in this moment. Research has shown that being mindful is good for us. It can have long term benefits for our health and happiness. This section will tell you more about what mindfulness is, how it can help children, young people and adults to flourish and how you can develop a more mindful life for yourself and for the children and young people you live with or work with.
Have you ever arrived at work and realised that you don’t remember driving there? When you are having a shower, are you actually there, enjoying the feeling of the hot water on your back, or are you thinking about what chores you have to do next or about a meeting you have to go to? Many of us live our lives on automatic pilot. We go through the motions of our daily routines, we worry about the future or we spend time going over yesterday’s argument with a friend. Many of us do not live in the present - we don’t pay attention to what is happening in our lives now, at this very moment. If we stop and think about it, this moment is actually all that we have.
Mindfulness is paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity.
Association for Mindfulness in Education
Children often pay more attention to the present moment than adults do. Young children especially will focus on a toy or a game, and they seem to enjoy taking time to really experience things like the feel of sand in their fingers or the sound of a familiar voice telling their favourite story. However, as children get older, they live in a world of being told what to do, what time to go to school, to hurry up with an activity. This begins to create that hurried, ‘automatic pilot’ way of living that we as adults are so familiar with - they become less aware of what they are experiencing right now.
Being in the present moment can help us all cope better with our lives and feel happier. This is because mindfulness is about respecting, and not judging, ourselves - it is about just accepting ourselves for who we are and how we are feeling right now. It is very simple, but can be a very powerful way of keeping us in touch with what is really important about our lives - our current sense of being alive. Through mindfulness practice, we begin to find it easier to accept our thinking as just ‘thoughts’, and then 'let them go', knowing that they don't have to affect us.
The process of mindfulness can help us to pay attention to the present moment. We can teach children and young people to do this too.
Being mindful is simply about being more aware of our senses and paying attention to those things in the present moment that we so often ignore, for example, the rich taste of our morning coffee, the sound of birds singing, the sensation of rain on our face, or the feeling of anger or joy in our body.
It is also about taking time to be aware of all the good things in your life - all the good things surrounding you right now like family, friends, your home, the food you have to eat, your pet, etc. This doesn’t mean you can’t have goals or want your life to be better. But if you spend too much time thinking about what you don’t have yet, or feeling that you are not the person you want to be yet, it can make you feel unhappy and stressed.
Suppose we went at a slow enough pace… to feel our bodies, play with children, look openly, without agenda or timetable into the faces of loved ones… Suppose we took time each day to sit in silence. I think if we did those things, the world wouldn’t need much saving.
Donella H. Meadows
Mindfulness can be practised in many different ways. It simply involves bringing your attention to the present moment. Mindfulness is not the same as meditation. You can meditate to become more mindful but it is only one way to become more mindful. And mindfulness is not about trying to achieve a higher level of consciousness that some meditative practices aim to achieve.
Mindfulness is often confused with relaxation. Although you may become more relaxed when you are mindful, this is not the goal of mindfulness. The goal is to be aware of how your body and mind feel at this moment in time and to be curious and kind to yourself about how you feel.
How can mindfulness help?
More and more people across the world are recognising the benefits of mindfulness. It has been used in healthcare to help reduce stress and anxiety. If someone is stressed or anxious they worry about what might happen in the future rather than what is happening in the present. Mindfulness provides an alternative focus by bringing attention to the present moment. Therefore, the vicious circle of worrying can be broken.
In people with depression, it has been found that mindfulness can help prevent the depression coming back. Mindfulness training may help people who are depressed to become aware of their despairing, hopeless thoughts and redirect their attention to other aspects of the present moment, such as their breathing and positive aspects of their environment.
Mindfulness has been shown to be associated with energy, optimism, higher independence, competence and higher life satisfaction, which may indicate why it has been found to be an effective tool in business.
In education, studies of mindfulness training suggest that mindfulness has the potential benefit of improving children and young people’s attention and social skills, reducing test anxiety and improving a sense of calm.
Evidence suggests that therapeutic workers who have had mindfulness training show improved outcomes for their clients because they are able to be more present with each client.
There have been many other positive outcomes associated with mindfulness training. To name a few, research suggests that practicing mindfulness can:
- Improve immune function
- Increase empathy
- Enhance relationships
- Improve academic performance
- Reduce symptoms of hyperactivity in young people
- Increase satisfaction with parenting skills.
Mindfulness in schools
Mindfulness is now being taught in many schools in the UK and is practised by both pupils and teachers. It is proving to be very successful.
See these websites for more details and how to apply for training to be a mindfulness teacher in schools:
How to become more mindful yourself
The future hasn't happened yet and the past is gone. So I think the only moment we have is right here and now, and I try to make the best of those moments, the moments that I'm in.
Mindfulness is really simple. Everyone can bring a little bit of mindfulness into their lives by doing some of the following:
- Be mindful for a few moments each day - sit quietly doing nothing and observe your breath going in and out. Notice any thoughts as they arise and just let them pass like clouds in the sky. Keep bringing your attention back to your breath and how it feels.
- Have a go at yoga or Tai chi - these are forms of mindful movement that can help you become more aware of your body and how it really feels to be you.
- Take time to eat quietly and slowly, savouring every bite, thinking about where the food has come from and how it tastes and feels in your mouth.
- Make a habit of doing something that you do every day mindfully, e.g. taking a shower. Doing it mindfully means paying attention to what’s happening right now and asking yourself, how does this feel? So you might notice the smell of the soap or the feel of the hot water on your skin. Try to pay attention to how you feel for the whole time you are in the shower - if you find your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the sensations you are feeling.
- Take time to go for a walk outside, not going too fast and noticing everything around you - really looking at things, and hearing all the sounds around you. When you find yourself getting caught up by your thinking, just gently focus back onto what you can see and hear.
- Watch young children or pets and notice how mindful they are, just being in the present moment and enjoying the world around them.
- Some people find it easier to develop a mindful approach to life by attending a group and learning together how to be more mindful. You can look out for a group in your local area.
Watch this short video to find out more about how to become more mindful: