Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based technique that enables people to change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences, by paying attention to thoughts, feelings and body sensations to become directly aware of them, and better able to manage them.
Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. Professor Williams says that mindfulness can be an antidote to the tunnel vision that can develop in our daily lives, especially when we are busy, stressed or tired.
“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 behaviour,” he says.
“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and 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. Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.
“Awareness of this kind doesn’t start by trying to change or fix anything. It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
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 afresh many things in the world around us that we have been taking for granted,” says Professor Williams. “Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience 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. 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.”
Studies have found that mindfulness programmes, where participants are taught mindfulness practices across a series of weeks, can bring about reductions in stress and improvements in mood.