A technique to change your mind

By Lianne Kolirin, May 26, 2011
Mindfulness uses meditation, yoga and breathing techniques to help you deal with stressful experiences

Mindfulness uses meditation, yoga and breathing techniques to help you deal with stressful experiences

Being mindful is not as easy as it sounds. Take a moment to stop what you are doing and connect with your body, senses and surroundings. Calm your racing mind and live in the moment, even if it lasts for just that moment.

It may sound obvious, but this philosophy is the basis of the therapy-du-jour: mindfulness. Celebrities such as Goldie Hawn, Meg Ryan and Oprah Winfrey swear by it, but mindfulness is anything but a passing fad.

Though the label is relatively new, the philosophy stems from ancient eastern cultures. Mindfulness is an integrative mind-body practice that uses elements of meditation, yoga and breathing techniques to help change the way you think and feel about your experiences, especially stressful ones.

Research shows practising can boost concentration, give you insight into your emotions and improve your relationships. This is not an alternative therapy. Doctors and psychiatrists recommend it as a way of managing anxiety, depression and even addiction.

Scientists in America recently suggested that people who regularly practise mindful meditation may be bringing about real changes in their brain. It has proven so effective that the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK recommends Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for patients who have suffered repeated episodes of depression

You do not have to wear robes or burn joss sticks

While the philosophy behind mindfulness is eastern, you do not have to wear orange robes or burn joss sticks. Dr Elliot Cohen, a psychology lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University, runs regular mindfulness sessions within a Jewish context. "Although mindfulness has Buddhist origins, it is being used more and more in clinical settings," he says.

"Certainly, Jewish writers such as Sylvia Boorstein (who wrote That's Funny You Don't Look Buddhist) find that bringing the qualities of mindfulness to their Jewish practices to be a deepening and enriching experience. I lay tefillin and find that when done mindfully it stops the practice from becoming automatic, repetitive and lifeless. Mindfulness itself is simply a meditative method of directing one's awareness in a particular way; it involves no devotional practices, chanting, visualisation of deities or burning of incense; just sitting and observing the rise and fall of the breath and settling the mind until one can observe one's thoughts and feelings as if they were passing clouds (to use the Tibetan expression)."

As a working mother-of-three, stress has long been a regular feature in my own life. After years of just-about coping, I decided to tackle the issue head-on. Mindfulness for Dummies is a straight-forward and accessible guide, with accompanying CD. Though initially sceptical, I found the book engaging and the guided meditations surprisingly easy to go with. Once I had read up on the basics, I booked on to a course with the author, Shamash Alidina. He got me to imagine a safe, tranquil place. I went with it quite easily and soon felt calm and sleepy. But this is not the idea, according to Alidina.

"Mindfulness is about falling awake rather than asleep. Relaxation is more of a side effect. Mindfulness is about being in the present, taking things one moment at a time and being aware of whatever arises - not creating a pleasant experience," he says.

"We move from automatic pilot to an experience where you connect with the senses and are in awe of what it means to be alive."

Shamash Alidina's website is at www.learnmindfulness.co.uk. For more on Mental Health Foundation's mindfulness campaign, go to www.bemindful.co.uk

    Last updated: 11:13am, May 26 2011