Mindfulness: the basics
Our minds are constantly active. You might be watching television – but also thinking about the past, or worrying about something, or wondering what you’re going to have for dinner.
Mindfulness is about stilling your active mind. It has been defined in several ways, including:
- giving your complete attention to the present on a moment-by-moment basis
- paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.
It’s about being more aware as you live and experience each moment – as the moment happens. It can be a useful way of calming yourself, focusing and concentrating on what you’re doing.
You can be mindful of your internal world – for example, sensations, breath and emotions. Or you can focus on what’s around you – for example, sights, sounds and smells.
You can be mindful anywhere and with anything. For example, you can be mindful while you’re eating, walking, listening to music or sitting.
You can use everyday moments to build and practise mindfulness. The more you practise, the more benefit you’ll get.
You can also encourage your child to build mindfulness. In many ways, this is just about getting your child to do what she naturally does. Young children are naturally mindful because every new experience is fresh and exciting for them. Older children and teenagers can learn mindfulness.
Encouraging your child to be in the here and now can give him skills to deal with the stress of study, work and play as he gets older.
There are many ways to help your child build and practise mindfulness. For example:
- Colouring in is a great way to get your child focused on a task.
- Walking through nature with the family can get your child interested in exploring the beauty of nature. Your child could collect and examine autumn leaves, or she could feel the sand beneath her toes during a walk on the beach.
- Taking photographs or drawing something interesting or beautiful – like a sea shell or an insect – encourages your child to look closely at details.
- Looking after a vegetable patch encourages your child to notice how plants grow.
- Listening to music and focusing on the instruments or lyrics is a great way for your child to focus on the present without distraction.
You might have heard of mindfulness meditation. This is a highly focused type of mindfulness. It combines meditation, breathing techniques and paying attention to the present moment to help you notice the way you think, feel and act.
You can do mindfulness mediation with an instructor, or you can use a guided mindfulness meditation app or CD.
If you or your child is interested in mindfulness meditation, it’s important be careful about not focusing on negative or upsetting thoughts while you do it. If you think this could be an issue for you, an experienced counsellor can help you understand how you think and help you focus on positive thoughts.
Mindfulness: the evidence
There’s clear evidence that practising mindfulness can have health benefits for adults.
For example, studies suggest that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can reduce stress and improve other mental health issues. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can help people with depression stay well and stop them from getting depressed again. It can work just as well as an antidepressant.
Being ‘present’ and less anxious can boost social skills and academic performance. It can also help people manage emotions.
There isn’t as much research into mindfulness with children and teenagers yet, so we don’t know how well it works with them. But there’s growing evidence that mindfulness helps boost learning, decision-making, emotional intelligence, self-confidence and connectedness to others. Children and teenagers seem to enjoy and appreciate mindfulness activities, and schools are introducing mindfulness-based exercises into their day-to-day routines.