Mindfulness is the practice of deliberately bringing your attention to something in the present moment. This could be your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, or something in the surrounding environment. Mindfulness means noticing these things without judging them to be good or bad. Mindfulness can mean practicing formally for a set amount of time or deliberately paying attention to things in your daily life.
Practising mindfulness, even a little bit, has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, help with difficult emotions like stress, and improve concentration and memory.
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Mindfulness involves becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings and body sensations as you experience them. As you become more aware of what’s going on for you, you get better at being able to meet your own needs. For example, you might become better at noticing when you need a break, when you are hungry or full, and when you are tired or need to get out for some exercise.
It also helps you notice other people. You might become more aware of other people’s impact on you or better at noticing other people's experiences, needs and emotions.
Because of this, mindfulness is great for helping reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Even practicing mindfulness a little bit has been shown to be generally helpful, but the more often you practice, the more helpful it is.
How mindful are you? Find out with the following mindfulness quiz.
Ways of being more mindful
Developing a mindfulness practice
There are lots of ways to practice mindfulness. Why not check out our selection of mindfulness apps? Here is one exercise for you to try. Start with the first step and do as many of the steps in order as feel right for you. Practice every day, try for 5–10 minutes to begin with. You may wish to set a timer for the length of time you want to practice for so you don’t need to keep watching a clock. Apps like Smiling Mind and Buddhify have a timer you can use, or you can try one of their guided mindfulness exercises. It is important to remember that it is normal for our minds to drift off when we’re practicing mindfulness. An important part of mindfulness is the simple act of bringing our mind back to focus on the sensation we’ve chosen.
- Find a quiet spot to sit in on your own.
- Become aware of your breathing. If you get distracted, just bring your focus back to the rhythm of your breath going in and out.
- After a few minutes, bring your awareness to your body. Scan your body from your feet up to the top of your head. Notice any body sensations, such as whether you are hot or cold, or any tension or itches.
- Bring your awareness to your feelings. Practice naming these feelings, not getting caught up in them.
- Bring your awareness to your thinking. Notice your thoughts then just let them go, without getting caught up in them.
- Sit quietly, holding in your awareness your breathing, your body sensations, your feelings and your mind. Enjoy this calmer and more spacious experience.
- Finally, if it is right for you, connect to your sense of God or the universe, and allow yourself to be held in this greater context.
If noticing what is happening in your body makes you feel distressed, don’t do this practice, but talk about it with your family doctor or therapist.
- Mindfulness Mental Health Foundation, NZ
- What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research (pdf) Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin, 2011
- Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, 2003
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. A meta-analysis Freiburg Institute for Mindfulness Research, 2004
- Parsons CE, Crane C, Parson LJ, et al. Home practice in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – a systematic review and meta-analysis of participants' mindfulness practice and its association with outcomes Behav Res Ther. 2017;95:29-41
|Kris Garstang is consulting clinical psychologist at Life Mind Psychology. She has practiced as a registered clinical psychologist for over twenty years and is a fellow of the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists. She has expertise in different evidence based psychological therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy. Areas of interest include primary mental health, e-therapies, mental health leadership and workplace wellbeing.|