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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a particular kind of awareness that arises from an open, kind attentiveness to experience. The emphasis in the practice of cultivating mindfulness is not so much about trying to change experience but to bring a deep noticing and radical acceptance to whatever arises. This encourages a capacity to ‘be’ as well as to ‘do’.

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We spend too much time in the past or future:

Life consists of millions of moments, and most of us aren't ‘there’ in them because we are in auto-pilot mode, wishing we’d chosen a faster queue or worrying about work tomorrow.

Two hours a week for eight weeks can change your life:

That's the length of the mindfulness therapy course which is used to help with a range of problems such as stress, depression and anxiety. You learn techniques that help you to pay attention to what's happening in the mind and body moment by moment. We are often caught up in our heads so moving your awareness to your body can switch off habitual negative thought cycles that can lead to stress or depression.

Over-thinking is the problem:

Our mind often makes simple issues more complicated, telling us we’re useless. Mindfulness shows you it's our relationship to thinking that's the problem. The mindfulness course teaches you how to relate to your thoughts differently: to see that thoughts are not facts...even the ones that say they are!

The mind has a mind of its own:

Thoughts are not necessarily true. Like clouds, they come and they disperse...if you have the courage to wait for them to disappear. The course asks people to sit for up to 40 min just focusing on their breathing or body sensations and noticing the thoughts and feelings that come and go. At first it's really difficult because the mind gets bored and starts wandering about, but if you train your attention to stay in one place, the next time you feel hijacked by negative thoughts you can remember how to relate to them differently...and let them go!

Taking mindfulness skills right into your everyday life:

One of the simple practices taught is called ‘The 3-minute Breathing Space’. This can be done whenever you're stressed or anxious. In this 3 step practice, for the first minute you become aware of what's going on in your body and mind. In the second minute you focus clearly on your breath. Then in the third minute you expand your attention to your body as a whole seeing all the sensations within it and then expanding out to listen to sounds around you before you continue with your day or evening.

(Adapted from an article in ‘You Magazine’ March 2011 by Prof Mark Williams of Oxford University)