The practice of mindfulness is often traced back to Buddhsim, and so it makes sense to look to Buddhist practitioners for inspiration on how to adopt mindfulness in our day to day lives.
Thich Nhat Thanh’s twitter account (@thichnhathanh) features quotes on mindfulness and messages of universal compassion, A Monk’s Guide to Happiness: Meditation in the 21st century by Gelong Thubten features a series of anecdotes about how mindfulness manifests in the lives of practitioners, and then, of course, there’s His Holiness the Dalai Lama (@DalaiLama).
While definitions differ, the term mindfulness is generally accepted to refer to a state of presence: a form of attention training which involves focusing on and appreciating what we’re experiencing in the present moment.
The origins of mindfulness can be traced back thousands of years, with roots in various religious faiths, but it was research carried out by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the seventies that popularised mindfulness as a secular practice.
Kabat-Zinn attended a lecture about mindfulness meditation whilst studying at graduate school, and in 1979, founded the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts medical school.
Through his work using mindfulness techniques to treat health issues such as chronic pain, Jon began to popularise and legitimise mindfulness as a technique for treating health conditions. The eight-week mindfulness based stress reduction course is now available in more than 700 hospitals, medical centres and clinics across the world, and the term is now common parlance.
While we can’t claim to be experts on this very complex topic, we’ve included research and findings from a few experts in the field:
● Research by Dr Rick Hansen has found that mindfulness practice can reduce our negativity bias, facilitating a naturally more positive mindset
● A study by Dr Richard Davidson found that mindfulness practice can reduce the prominence and production of inflammatory proteins
● Research by Atkinson found that mindfulness practice improves communication and satisfaction in romantic relationships
● A study led by Professor Willem Kuyken found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can be as effective as antidepressants for treating depression
● Research from Harvard has found that mindfulness can reduce activity in the amygdala, resulting in reduced levels of anxiety
Developing a personal mindfulness practice can be an entirely solo endeavour: deciding to positively focus your attention on what you’re experiencing, and in doing so, rewiring your neural pathways. In its name and its essence, mindfulness is a personal and introspective practice, but that’s not to say that there aren’t places we can look for help along the way. We’ve selected a couple of aids – from courses to courses to essential oils – to give you a helping hand.
While meditation and mindfulness are different – mindfulness being a practice you can bring to every experience, and meditation referring to a separate activity – the two often run hand in hand. Meditation is often cited as helping us to connect with and appreciate our day to day experiences, so advocates of mindfulness frequently recommend meditating to facilitate a natural state of presence and appreciative awareness.
Vipassana retreats are often heralded as the holy grail of meditation training, but if a ten day silent retreat isn’t possible or appealing, there are other options out there. In Sydney, Bondi Meditation Centre and Geoff Rupp Meditation are just two of the centres offering four-day courses in vedic meditation: a simple and incredibly effective form of mantra-based meditation. For meditation training with less of a financial burden, Rory Kinsela is offering a seven day online course with an option to donate to COVID-19 relief efforts.
Headspace is a natural go-to for online meditation resources, and the engaging, scientifically rigorous content has helped establish its following, along with the generous ten-day free trial. While we’re on the topic of apps, Smiling Mind, UCLA Mindful and Stop, Breathe, Think all offer guided meditations and mindfulness advice, designed to foster positivity.
As an arguably abstract practice, mindfulness can fall victim to uninformed individuals looking to present themselves as an authority on the topic. And as a relatively unregulated medium, podcasts can be used as platforms by the uninformed. However, amongst the leagues of podcasts available on the topic of mindfulness, there are a few which provide genuinely ground-breaking insight, and serve not only to educate but to facilitate.
Being Well Podcast is a case in point: New York Times bestselling author and neuropsychologist Rick Hanson explores questions such as dealing with difficult people, death and effective communication, explaining the science of our minds in a way that somehow instantly soothes.
Happier With Gretchen Ruben takes a similar approach, as does The Marie Forleo podcast: the engaging and deeply intelligent hosts offer reliable insights and advice in a digestible format.
On Being With Krista Tippett is another go-to for education on the topic of mindfulness: award-winning journalist Krista Tippett explores topics such as gratitude and the happiness disposition with global experts.
For real-time mindfulness and guided meditations, look to The Mindful Minute, I Should Be Meditating and Meditation Minis.
It would be impossible to talk about mindfulness without talking about Jon Kabat-Zinn, and books are a good place to start.
Known as the godfather of modern mindfulness, Kabat-Zinn has written numerous books on the topic, including the bestselling titles Full Catastrophe Living, Wherever You Go There You Are, and Coming to Our Senses.
While each of these give interesting insight into how mindfulness works and what it can bring to our lives, Full Catastrophe Living is the landmark publication which put Kabat-Zinn on the map and brought mindfulness into the public discourse, so is a good place to start for an insight into the origins of the practice.
The New York Times bestselling book 10% Happier by Dan Harris takes a more contemporary stance: examining the benefits of meditation and mindfulness in modern-day life.
Mindfulness literature has seen a considerable boom over the last few years, but among the myriad books published on the subject, other titles which will give reliable, informed insights and advice include Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Make Peace With Your Mind by Mark Coleman and Cure: The Science Of The Art Of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant, along with any work by the endlessly insightful Rick Hanson. And then, naturally, there’s The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It almost goes without saying, but we’re saying it anyway: a must-read for a poetically written explanation of how to live in and appreciate the present.
To enhance your mindfulness practice at home, Sarah Baiada sells a range of essential oil blends, vibrational medicines, salts, essences and light codes: ethically made products to facilitate calm and aid your meditations.
● Pause – Take a moment to tune in: what are you experiencing, and what is beautiful about it?
● Practice gratitude – The more we practice gratitude, the more our neural pathways set to create a grateful mindset, but if we forget throughout the day, try to end your day with a simple gratitude practice. Psychologist and author Kelly McGonigal suggests visualising all of the people with whom you have interacted during the day, and imagining how you would thank them if you were given the time.
● Set simple intentions – Think of a word that can inspire your actions for the day, and seek to act in alignment with that.