Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around us
What Is Mindfulness?
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.
“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviours,” he says.
“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies, noticing what our bodies are trying to tell us and feeling the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs or sitting in a comfy chair or sofa and simply clearing our mind of thoughts and simply focusing on our breathing.
Mindfulness means knowing what is going on, inside and outside ourselves, moment by momentProfessor Mark Williams
“Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment, and accepting that our minds will wonder from time to time, acknowledge them and simply refocus our minds on nothing.
“It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves, our environment and our lives.”
The Science Behind Mindfulness
How Mindfulness Helps Our Mental Wellbeing
Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better.
When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience feelings and things that we have been taking for granted and have neglected in ourselves.
“Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience,” says Professor Williams, “and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful.
“This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns and finding out why we feel the way we do as we forget to listen to our bodies and properly looking after ourselves.
Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control us. Thoughts are natural and to be expected. They are just simply thoughts, acknowledge them and try to take positive steps when we cravings, temptations and urges occur.
“Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go of and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: ‘Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful or am I just getting caught up in my own negative thoughts and behaviours?’
Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent and support our feelings of depression, mental health conditions, addictions and helps your overall physical wellbeing.
How Does This Help With My Addiction & Recovery?
Using mindfulness in either active addiction and/or recovery allows us to take a small amount of time out from the busy, frantic and chaotic lifestyle that active addiction brings with it. with it.
Even in recovery, we sometimes either unintentionally end up with instability in our lives or still struggle with intense, negative thoughts, feelings and emotions such as doubts, anger, guilt, embarrassment or even cravings and temptations to use or drink again. These thoughts and feelings are normal, however they can still feel extremely intense and overwhelming to deal with.
Benefits Of Mindfulness To Those With Addictions
Mindfulness has the following benefits for both actively using/drinking addicts and also those in recovery:
- Helps to allow us to stop, breath and think before doing or saying something negative. A previous article called respond & not react, helps to take this split second to think so that you can respond and not react negatively to situations. This is also a mindfulness skill which you can learn how to do here.
- Allows us to make better, more informed decisions.
- Reduces the frequency and intensity of cravings, urges and temptations.
- Reduces stress & anxiety levels and intensity of diagnosed mental health conditions.
- Improves physical health conditions & promotes healing.
- Improves our relationships & communication with others and improves our approach to arguments, confrontation or negativity from others.
- Improves our energy levels.
- Improves our lifespan.
- Promotes us to more easily adopt and maintain new positive activities and behaviours.
- Promotes unconscious decisions to adopt new and healthier lifestyle changes.
Performing A Body Scan
To keep things simple, a body scan is a process by which you notice and concentrate on the sights, smells, sounds, temperature and other feelings slowly from the top of your head, to the bottom of your feet, working bottom to top or top to bottom, whichever is preferable for you.
Benefits Of The Body Scan Practice
- Enhances your ability to bring your full attention to real-time experiences happening in the present moment—helpful when emotions or thoughts feel wild.
- Trains to explore and be with pleasant & unpleasant sensations, learning to notice what happens when we simply hang in there and feel what’s going on in “body-land” without trying to fix or change anything.
Body Scan Meditation for Beginners
30-Minute Body Scan for Beginners
It is recommended you allow about 30 or 40 minutes to let yourself really investigate and understand this practice, but once you get used to the process. But if you don’t have that much time, utilise whatever time you have. You might want to lay down, but you can also do it sitting up, especially if that makes it easier for you to stay awake. You can do it on buses, trains, planes, when you’re in a group and feeling anxious or any other occasion you feel you need to calm down and take stock of the situation.
- Closing your eyes can be helpful to allow you to focus, or if you’d rather, you can always lower and half-close your eyes.
- Bring awareness to the body breathing in and out, noticing touch and pressure where it makes contact with the seat or floor, feeling you clothes rise and fall as you breath. Throughout this practice, allow as much time as you need or want to experience and investigate each area of the body.
- When you’re ready (no rush), intentionally breathe in and move your attention to whatever part of the body you want to investigate. You might choose to do a systematic body scan beginning at the head or feet. Or you might choose to explore sensations randomly. Enjoy!
- Sensations might include buzzing, tingling, pressure, tightness, temperature, soft, hard, sharp, smooth or anything else you notice. What if you don’t notice any strong sensations or things feel neutral? You can simply notice that, too. There are no right answers. Just tune in to what’s present as best you can, without judgement. You’ll notice judgement puts a different spin on things.
- The main point is being curious and open to what you are noticing, investigating the sensations as fully as possible and then intentionally releasing the focus of attention before shifting to the next area of your body to explore.
- You’ll quickly discover that you can’t stop your attention from wandering. But over time you can train it to stay for longer periods. Train it, not force it, there’s a difference.
- Each time your attention wanders, simply notice that this is happening, then gently and kindly (it’s really important that you don’t try to force anything) direct your attention back to exploring sensations in the body. Repeat until you’ve finished your entire body exploration.
- Neuroscience tells us that noticing drifting attention, and gently returning our focus to wherever we’ve placed it, over and over, is how we create new pathways in the brain.
- At the end of this exploration of bodily sensations, spend a few moments to expand your attention to feeling your entire body breathing freely as one interconnected, organic being.
- Open your eyes if they have been closed. Move mindfully into this moment and return your mind today.
How Many Of These Descriptors You Can Feel When Body Scanning?
Body Scanning For Adults & Children
How To Be More Mindful
Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.
Notice The Small Things In Everyday Life
“Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk,” says Professor Williams. “All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we often engage day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life.”
Keep It Regular
It can be helpful to pick a regular time – the morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime – during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you.
Tip – Repeating it at the same time will also form a new habit which will replace older bad habits with a positive one
Try Something New
Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch can also help you notice the world around you in a new way.
Tip – This randomness and variety will help keep you motivated to continue practicing this beneficial skill as you constantly learn new things, see, smell, feel or hear new things.
Watch Your Thoughts
“Some people find it very difficult to practice mindfulness. As soon as they stop what they’re doing, lots of thoughts and worries crowd in,” says Professor Williams.
“It might be useful to remember that mindfulness isn’t about making these thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events, acknowledging them and moving on.”
“Imagine standing at a bus station and seeing ‘thought buses’ coming and going without having to get on them and be taken away. This can be very hard at first, but with gentle persistence it is possible.
“Some people find that it is easier to cope with an over-busy mind if they are doing gentle yoga or walking.”
Name Your Thoughts & Feelings
To develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings, some people find it helpful to silently name them: “Here’s the thought that I might fail that exam”. Or, “This is anxiety”.
Free Yourself From The Past And Future
You can practise mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realise that, for several minutes, you have been “trapped” in reliving past problems or “pre-living” future worries that haven’t happened or may not ever happen!
Different Mindfulness Practices, Techniques & Exercises
As well as practising mindfulness in daily life, it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness meditation involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander.
Yoga, Ti Chi And other types of exercise can also help with developing awareness of your breathing.
You can watch this short mindful breathing exercise video on YouTube from Every Mind Matters.
Is Mindfulness Helpful For Everyone?
“Mindfulness isn’t the answer to everything and it’s important that our enthusiasm doesn’t run ahead of the evidence,” says Professor Williams.
“There’s encouraging evidence for its use in health, education, prisons, rehabs and workplaces, but it’s important to realise that research is still going on in all of these fields and many more. Once we have the results, we’ll be able to see more clearly who mindfulness is most helpful for but it’s worth trying as you have nothing to loose and potentially a lot to gain!”
Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today
This exercise can be done standing up or sitting down, and pretty much anywhere at any time. If you can sit down in the meditation (lotus) position, that’s great, if not, no worries.
Either way, all you have to do is be still and focus on your breath for just one minute.
- Start by breathing in and out slowly. One breath cycle should last for approximately 6 seconds.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, letting your breath flow effortlessly in and out of your body.
- Let go of your thoughts. Let go of things you have to do later today or pending projects that need your attention. Simply let thoughts rise and fall of their own accord and be at one with your breath.
- Purposefully watch your breath, focusing your sense of awareness on its pathway as it enters your body and fills you with life.
- Then watch with your awareness as it works work its way up and out of your mouth and its energy dissipates into the world.
If you are someone who thought they’d never be able to meditate, guess what? You are half way there already!
If you enjoyed one minute of this mind-calming exercise, why not try two or three?
2. Mindful Observation
This exercise is simple but incredibly powerful because it helps you notice and appreciate seemingly simple elements of your environment in a more profound way.
The exercise is designed to connect us with the beauty of the natural environment, something that is easily missed when we are rushing around in the car or hopping on and off trains on the way to work.
- Choose a natural object from within your immediate environment and focus on watching it for a minute or two. This could be a flower or an insect, or even the clouds or the moon.
- Don’t do anything except notice the thing you are looking at. Simply relax into watching for as long as your concentration allows.
- Look at this object as if you are seeing it for the first time.
- Visually explore every aspect of its formation, and allow yourself to be consumed by its presence.
- Allow yourself to connect with its energy and its purpose within the natural world.
3. Mindful Awareness
This exercise is designed to cultivate a heightened awareness and appreciation of simple daily tasks and the results they achieve.
Think of something that happens every day more than once; something you take for granted, like opening a door, for example.
At the very moment you touch the doorknob to open the door, stop for a moment and be mindful of where you are, how you feel in that moment and where the door will lead you.
Similarly, the moment you open your computer to start work, take a moment to appreciate the hands that enable this process and the brain that facilitates your understanding of how to use the computer.
These ‘touch point’ cues don’t have to be physical ones.
For example: Each time you think a negative thought, you might choose to take a moment to stop, label the thought as unhelpful and release the negativity.
Or, perhaps each time you smell food, you take a moment to stop and appreciate how lucky you are to have good food to eat and share with your family and friends.
Choose a touch point that resonates with you today and, instead of going through your daily motions on autopilot, take occasional moments to stop and cultivate purposeful awareness of what you are doing and the blessings these actions brings to your life.
4. Mindful Listening
This exercise is designed to open your ears to sound in a non-judgmental way, and indeed to train your mind to be less swayed by the influence of past experiences and preconception.
So much of what we “feel” is influenced by past experience. For example, we may dislike a song because it reminds of us of a breakup or another period of life when things felt negative.
So the idea of this exercise is to listen to some music from a neutral standpoint, with a present awareness that is unhindered by preconception.
Select a piece of music you have never heard before. You may have something in your own collection that you have never listened to, or you might choose to turn the radio dial until something catches your ear.
- Close your eyes and put on your headphones.
- Try not to get drawn into judging the music by its genre, title or artist name before it has begun. Instead, ignore any labels and neutrally allow yourself to get lost in the journey of sound for the duration of the song.
- Allow yourself to explore every aspect of track. Even if the music isn’t to your liking at first, let go of your dislike and give your awareness full permission to climb inside the track and dance among the sound waves.
- Explore the song by listening to the dynamics of each instrument. Separate each sound in your mind and analyze each one by one.
- Hone in on the vocals: the sound of the voice, its range and tones. If there is more than one voice, separate them out as you did in step 4.
The idea is to listen intently, to become fully entwined with the composition without preconception or judgment of the genre, artist, lyrics or instrumentation. Don’t think, hear.
5. Mindful Immersion
The intention of this exercise is to cultivate contentment in the moment and escape the persistent striving we find ourselves caught up in on a daily basis.
Rather than anxiously wanting to finish an everyday routine task in order to get on with doing something else, take that regular routine and fully experience it like never before.
For example: if you are cleaning your house, pay attention to every detail of the activity.
Rather than treat this as a regular chore, create an entirely new experience by noticing every aspect of your actions:
Feel and become the motion when sweeping the floor, sense the muscles you use when scrubbing the dishes, develop a more efficient way of wiping the windows clean.
The idea is to get creative and discover new experiences within a familiar routine task.
Instead of labouring through and constantly thinking about finishing the task, become aware of every step and fully immerse yourself in the progress. Take the activity beyond a routine by aligning yourself with it physically, mentally and spiritually.
Who knows, you might even enjoy the cleaning for once!
6. Mindful Appreciation
In this last exercise, all you have to do is notice 5 things in your day that usually go unappreciated.
These things can be objects or people; it’s up to you. Use a notepad to check off 5 by the end of the day.
The point of this exercise is to simply give thanks and appreciate the seemingly insignificant things in life, the things that support our existence but rarely get a second thought amidst our desire for bigger and better things.
For example: electricity powers your kettle, the postman delivers your mail, your clothes provide you warmth, your nose lets you smell the flowers in the park, your ears let you hear the birds in the tree by the bus stop, but…
- Do you know how these things/processes came to exist, or how they really work?
- Have you ever properly acknowledged how these things benefit your life and the lives of others?
- Have you ever thought about what life might be like without these things?
- Have you ever stopped to notice their finer, more intricate details?
- Have you ever sat down and thought about the relationships between these things and how together they play an interconnected role in the functioning of the earth?
Once you have identified your 5 things, make it your duty to find out everything you can about their creation and purpose to truly appreciate the way in which they support your life.
Why Mindfulness Exercises?
The cultivation of moment-by-moment awareness of our surrounding environment is a practice that helps us better cope with the difficult thoughts and feelings that cause us stress and anxiety in everyday life.
With regular practice of mindfulness exercises, rather than being led on auto-pilot by emotions influenced by negative past experiences and fears of future occurrences, we harness the ability to root the mind in the present moment and deal with life’s challenges in a clear-minded, calm, assertive way.
In turn, we develop a fully conscious mind-set that frees us from the imprisonment of unhelpful, self-limiting thought patterns, and enables us to be fully present to focus on positive emotions that increase compassion and understanding in ourselves and others.
Meditation isn’t only about the mind—it’s also about the body. And believe it or not, meditation isn’t meant to be physically uncomfortable. Getting your posture right is key to staying relaxed and alert instead of tense or spaced out. Without that, it’s nearly impossible to focus on the present moment.
Chances are that when you start, meditation will feel a little awkward or uncomfortable. That’s okay. Finding the ideal meditation posture and seating arrangement can take a while. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach—it takes time to familiarise yourself with the subtleties of your unique body. We offer the basic guidelines to help you get started or make some tweaks.
Getting Cravings? Try This Exercise
6 Posture Pointers
- EYES gaze slightly downward, 4 to 6 feet in front of you. Or eyes closed.
- CHIN slightly tucked to keep your cervical spine aligned.
- SPINE follows natural curvature—upright, yet natural.
- SITTING BONES are centered and stable—not perched too far forward or spread too far back.
- ARMS parallel to the torso, palms fall naturally on the thighs.
- KNEES below hips, with legs loosely crossed.
Cover Your Bases
If you’re planning a longer session (30+ minutes), it pays to come prepared. Here’s our list of essentials to get the most from your mindfulness exercise and be the most comfortable doing it (it doesn’t matter if you don’t have all of these things, but it does help):
- Glass of water
- Shawl or blanket
- Warm socks
- Timer or clock
5 Tips for Basic Seated Meditation Posture
1) Seat: Keep your butt centered
If your seat isn’t comfortable, the rest of your body will likely tense up, which makes meditating pretty difficult all around. Keep your butt in the center of the cushion or chair—if you’re too far forward your spine will arch to compensate; if you’re too far back it’ll curve forward.
When you first sit down, rock back and forth on your sitting bones to loosen up and find solid ground. From there, the rest of your posture will more easily fall into place.
2: Spine: Stay straight and relaxed
There are two main ways the spine gets out of whack during meditation: arching or slouching. When you have more than a natural arch, things stiffen and strain, and the mind is more likely to get frantic. On the flipside, it’s hard to feel present and alert when you’re slouched, your hands are sliding off your knees, and your chin is down. To align your spine, drape your body forward, then slowly straighten up, feeling each vertebra stack as you go.
3) Legs: Find the right height
If your knees are above your thighs, your hips, back, and neck will strain. For the long-legged among us, this could mean finding a higher cushion.
4) Knees: Try Sitting in a chair
There are many reasons to meditate in a chair: it can be easier on the knees for those with joint pain; it’s convenient when traveling; most people have access to a chair even if they don’t have room for a cushion. If you do use a chair, resist the urge to rely too much on the chair’s back, unless you really need to. Doing so can cause you to let your spine go soft, making your breathing less open and inviting distraction and discomfort. And be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor. This may mean placing something under your feet if the chair is too high off the ground.
5: Stamina: Explore resting pose
It’s OK to take a break from your meditation posture, especially during longer sessions. Try the resting pose pictured, bringing your knees to your chest, curving your spine forward.
Check Out Different Seating Options
- Meditation benches allow you to sit in a relaxed kneeling position while keeping your posture aligned.
- Rectangular cushions, or gomdens, are good for sitting cross-legged, and come in various heights and degrees of firmness.
- Round cushions, or , are used for cross-legged sitting or, placed on their side, between the legs, for a kneeling posture.