Mindfulness for beginners: how to embrace the here and now

3 min read

Balance, clarity, serenity... Mindfulness expert Elizabeth Granger enlightens us about the advantages of this intriguing practise that’s more than just a buzzword.

In this hectic, demanding world we often spend so much time worrying about the future, or lingering in the past, we forget to enjoy the present. And there are good things happening around us – we just need to tune into them and, as Elizabeth explains, this is where the practices of mindfulness can be life changing.

Can you explain mindfulness to those who may have never heard of it?

Mindfulness is a moment-to-moment awareness where you are fully present to whatever is here right now. This can be cultivated by doing formal mindfulness practice where you set aside meditation time to deliberately pay attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. It involves bringing curiosity and a sense of allowing what is here to be here, as opposed to the customary judgments on what is happening in our lives.

How is it practised?

Given that mindfulness is simply about being where you already are, it’s not difficult to practise in the sense that you aren’t trying to be or get anywhere else. We spend so much time wanting other things, people or ourselves to be different that it can feel difficult to allow ourselves or things to be the way they are, as opposed to how we wish them to be. So while there is nothing technically difficult about mindfulness practice, it does require some commitment and discipline to make time to pay attention in this way.

Where did it originate?

Mindfulness practices that are around today originated from Buddhist traditions over 2500 years ago, so It isn’t new phenomenon but in recent decades has found its way into Western culture.

 Who could benefit from practising mindfulness?

I think most people would benefit because you learn about the nature and wisdom of your own mind and body.

Can it be self-taught?

There are many apps that people can use to learn mindfulness. However, my experience is that stressed, time-poor people often need the support and ongoing relationship with a teacher as this provides regular connection and inspiration to help them change habits of mind and body.

Can practising mindfulness be an alternative to taking antidepressant or other medications?

There was some interesting *research that came out in 2015 which showed that undertaking an eight-week mindfulness course was just as effective as taking anti-depressants in preventing relapses of depression. The research didn’t go so far as to say it was better than medication, merely that it offers a safe and empowering treatment choice, whether it is delivered alongside or as an alternative to anti-depressants.

I should point out, however, that most of the research that points to the far-reaching benefits of mindfulness is based on participants undergoing an eight-week mindfulness program, so I want to emphasise that to reap these benefits, you do need to practise mindfulness on a daily basis.

What lead you to the practise? 

I was working fulltime as a litigation lawyer, studying psychotherapy on the side, as well as raising two young children. As soon as I started practising, I noticed how it helped me manage stress and how I could think more clearly under pressure, but what kept me going was the insights it gave me into the nature of my mind. It helped me open up to many more possibilities.

How have you changed since you began practising mindfulness?

My ability to manage my emotions has improved and I am calmer than before. Also, my focus has improved including my ability to resist distractions or other impulses but perhaps the biggest change for me is the way I relate to whatever arises and how I am open to the world around me. I feel I have more capacity than before, am certainly happier as I savour more moments of my life.

How often do you practise?

I practise daily. If you want to become physically fit, you cannot just learn about it but have to engage in physical training, and the more regularly you do it, the fitter and stronger you become. The same is true for mindfulness training.

Can you practise in public or in the workplace?

Yes - Mindfulness can be practised anywhere. I remember once meditating while walking around the airport when my plane was cancelled, so it is a very portable practice which can be done anywhere.

To learn how to practise mindfulness, visit the Mindfulness Training Institute at www.mtia.org.au

* Kuyken W, Warren F, Taylor R, Whalley B, Crane C, Bondolfi G. Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy in Prevention of Depressive Relapse. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016.

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This information is current as at 15/08/2016.

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