Practising mindfulness

‘Mindfulness’ simply means paying attention to the present moment – the opposite of living our present life on ‘autopilot’, caught up in thoughts about the past or the future. It is a simple yet powerful skill for being awake to our lives and gaining appropriate control of our minds and actions.

An age-old life skill rediscovered

Protection from depressionMindfulness is a life skill which has been practised for many centuries via the meditative practices of a variety of philosophical and religious traditions. Non-religious forms of mindfulness are increasingly widely practised in the west, since recent scientific studies have proved its powerful effect in managing human distress and suffering (both physical and mental)*.

Anyone can benefit from learning the skill of mindfulness, and it provides an effective antidote to depressed thinking habits. There is strong evidence that learning this skill significantly reduces the risk of relapse in those who have been chronically affected by depression*.

Mental muscle

Mindfulness practice consists of short periods of focusing on something specific in the present (eg. your breath, sounds, a specific object), gently bringing your mind back to this chosen focus each time it wanders off – it is normal to have to bring your mind back to the focus many times.

An attitude of curiosity and acceptance

Mindfulness is not about ‘forcing’ anything – a key, central principle of is that the practice is done with an attitude of curiosity and interest in how your mind behaves. In noticing what your mind is doing/saying you are not trying to change it, but just to accept that that is what your mind is doing.

As you become more skilled at identifying the ways in which your mind works, and the types of thoughts and feelings it commonly returns to, you will start to recognise the judgments and/or expectations you bring to bear on yourself. The idea is to learn to treat all your experience, instead, with equanimity and kindly interest.

Fully experiencing your life

Learning mindfulnessLiving a mindful life is about being in touch with all of your experience, both good and bad, painful or pleasurable – it is about experiencing a full, rich life in all its dimensions, rather than a numbed, avoidant, miserable ‘half life’.

Learning mindfulness

Many university and college counselling services now offer taster sessions or full mindfulness courses for free – check your own counselling service web pages or contact your service for details. If your counselling service doesn’t offer mindfulness sessions then you can search for a course near you at the Mental Health Foundation mindfulness website – find a course or try their online mindfulness course (not free).

Recommended self-help program

You can also follow the scientifically-proven mindfulness program set out in the excellent self-help book The Mindful Way Through Depression: freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. The book is co-authored by some of the leading researchers in mindfulness and includes an audio-CD of guided mindfulness meditations by mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zin. Check if you can get it in your university library.

Next: Acceptance & emotional literacy

Related

More about mindfulness
Learning self compassion
Seeing depression differently