Being aware: mindfulness

Being aware is important for finding our way around, for allowing us choice about where and how we journey. 

Mindfulness is being aware in this moment - the only moment we have. 

J Kabat Zinn’s definition is   “... Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose to the present moment and non-judgementally”. 

A lot of people think mindfulness is Buddhist and is about meditation. Many try to “do” a regular session often following a daily app, or listening to a recording. Many know about doing an eight week course. MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) was the original course. 

How many of us appreciate that mindfulness in daily life can be much more simple than we realise? Mindfulness can be practiced both formally with exercises and informally by weaving it into our daily life. Once we are aware and we realise that we are being mindful we are often encouraged to be more mindful so a positive cycle follows. We are kind to our self. 

Many of us are mindful without realising it - we are frequently in the present moment. But we also have a habit of drifting into the past and the future. The chatter of the mind can be – and is - so distracting. How do we stop it?

Trying to stop something can be difficult because when we take our attention to something - in order to try and change it - it frequently gets worse. Taking our attention somewhere else can be much more effective. When we take our attention to our body we have to be in the present moment – the body cannot be in the past or the future. 

When we learn, in formal practice, how to be mindful we take our attention to the breath. The breath is always with us. It is essential for life and yet we can so easily take it for granted. It affects how we are. Try noticing the effect of holding your breath right now. Lengthen your breath – counting up to five as you breathe in and then to five as you breathe out. Shorten your breath panting and notice any difference. Try holding an uncomfortable posture for several minutes and notice how your breath changes.

Knowing that the act of mindfulness is noticing when our mind has wandered and gently and kindly returning our attention to the present moment is practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is portable – it’s always with us and it is instantly accessible when we return to the breath.

As well as the breath other principles in mindfulness include:

  • slowing down and pausing
  • patience
  • kindness and not judging ourselves or others
  • being curious and having a beginners mind approaching everything as if for the first time   
  • trusting – our  own experience, feelings and intuition 
  • non striving knowing that doing our best is enough
  • non-attachment to an  expectation or outcome
  • acceptance of how things are and not wanting things to be different
  • letting go and just letting things be.

Mindfulness offers a menu of options for us to choose from that enable us to be in the present moment. Many are simple but small changes can make a huge difference to our life.

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