A woman looks out of a window

Hardly a day goes by without a report in the newspaper about the success of mindfulness to improve people’s lives. Research into mindfulness has shown its use can improve:

But what is mindfulness and how can you incorporate into your life?

What is Mindfulness?

The practice of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation are key components of Buddhist teachings which were developed 2500 years ago. At the heart of Buddhism are the four noble truths:

  1. Life has inevitable suffering
  2. The cause of our suffering are our attachments
  3. There is an end to our suffering
  4. The end to suffering is contained in the eight fold path

You can think of attachments as being our “must, should and have too’s”. Attachments are our cravings and desires, the expectations we place upon ourselves and on others.

The eight fold path consists of guidelines for how to live a life without suffering. Right mindfulness is the seventh path and it involves learning to be more present and aware of the moment rather than focusing on our thoughts. Mindfulness can therefore be practised formally as a meditation, perhaps sat down undisturbed for 5 –10 minutes, or informally while going about our daily business.

By being mindful we can focus our attention on what we are doing at that moment. Perhaps while washing up, or driving to work we tend to allow our thoughts to wander and find ourselves worrying or ruminating on a situation. This in turn can lead us to feel negative emotions such as anger, anxiety or irritability. By learning to be mindful we can focus our mind on the task in hand. The key to mindfulness is to learn to accept when our mind does start to wander and to then gently take our attention back to what we are doing.

Mindfulness has been practised by millions of Buddhists for hundreds of years, mainly in the east, to improve their general well being. Then during the second half of the 19th century interest in Buddhism in the West began to grow. By the 1960’s, at the time of the rise of the counter culture movement, Buddhism became more popular in America and Europe.

At the same time Cognitive and Behavioural Therapies (CBT) were being developed based upon the idea that if you change the way you think or behave you can change the way that you feel. One of the originators of this new form of therapy was Albert Ellis who was influenced by the work of the Greek philosopher Socrates and the Stoics. The Roman Emperor and Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, gave the following advice:

“Every hour focus your mind attentively…on the performance of the task in hand, with dignity, human sympathy, benevolence and freedom, and leave aside all other thoughts. You will achieve this, if you perform each action as if it were your last…’ 

So, just as the Buddhist used mindfulness, the Stoics advised focusing on the present rather than getting caught up in unhelpful thoughts.

Then in the late 1970’s Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine, developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The programme incorporated mindfulness meditation, yoga and body awareness to help patients to reduce pain, stress and anxiety. Kabat-Zinn has described mindfulness as “moment to moment non-judgemental awareness”.

Since then the interest in mindfulness has increased greatly and has become ever more mainstream. Indeed the NHS now offer mindfulness courses to help patients with depression.

Mindfulness & Hypnosis

So, when working with clients, particularly for stress, anxiety, phobias and panic attacks I incorporate mindfulness techniques into client treatments. This inevitably leads clients to ask “are hypnosis and mindfulness/meditation the same thing?” In his book Mindfulness & Hypnosis: The Power of Suggestion to Transform Experience Michael Yapko claims that although not identical, hypnosis and mindfulness share “a common practical foundation, common methodology and common therapeutic orientation”.

Hypnosis is a state of focused attention and during hypnotherapy sessions I very often encourage clients to focus on a particular idea, image or suggestion. In a way, I’m teaching clients to focus on just one thing and not to become fused with their thoughts. I also teach clients to “let go” during sessions and also to become more aware of changes in bodily sensations such as warmth or heaviness. I also teach clients to “accept” their thoughts and to learn to not judge them. In addition I teach clients self-hypnosis techniques so that they can practice their new found skill whenever they need to settle and calm their minds.

Learning to be more mindful

The great thing about mindfulness is that it is portable, you can do it anywhere and it’s free. By starting to incorporate the practice into your daily life you can start to feel more centred and balanced throughout your life in general. Below is a really simple technique that you can use at any time.

Mindful Breathing

This is great to use through the day. I recommend you try to link it with something you do regularly during the day such as each time you wash your hands.

  • Take your attention to your breathing for 8-10 breaths
  • Observe each breath and become aware of any sensations eg the air coming in through your nose, the feeling of your abdomen rising and falling etc
  • If you find your mind wanders just accept any thought that pops into your head and then gently take your attention back to your breathing
  • At the end of the exercise expand your attention away from your breath and back into the room
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