Mindfulness is a technique you can learn to be fully present and engaged in the moment without judging anything. It can help you manage your thoughts, feelings and mental health.
Last updated: 13 August 2021
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness exercises are ways of paying attention to the present moment using techniques like meditation, breathing, and yoga. Training helps people to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, they’re better able to manage them.
The Oxford Mindfulness Centre has more information on how mindfulness works.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness can help you:
- understand your emotions better
- cope better with difficult thoughts
- feel calmer
- boost your attention and concentration
- improve your relationships
Studies show that mindfulness-based approaches can significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. They can also help people who have been depressed several times to stay well and avoid relapsing.
Who can practice mindfulness?
Anyone who wants to improve their day-to-day wellbeing can practice mindfulness. While it has roots in Buddhism, you don’t have to be religious or spiritual to practice it.
However, you may not find mindfulness helpful if you’re very unwell and would find it too overwhelming to learn a new skill. You also need to be prepared to notice difficult thoughts, which could make you feel worse at first.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) should be aware that mindfulness could make their trauma symptoms worse. If you’ve experienced trauma, paying close attention to yourself in mindfulness exercises can trigger flashbacks, intense emotions or dissociation. Make sure your teacher is properly trained and able to adapt the exercises for you if necessary.
If you’re not sure, talk to your GP or a trained mindfulness practitioner before getting started.
How can I practice mindfulness?
There are some structured mindfulness programs aimed at helping people with specific problems.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is designed to help people with recurring depression. It combines mindfulness with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help break negative thought patterns. NICE – the organisation providing guidance for healthcare – recommends MBCT for people with recurrent depression who are currently well
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) involves mindfulness meditation and yoga. It can help participants deal with stress, depression, anxiety and pain
In general, both MBCT and MBSR are group-based and are run over eight weeks by a qualified practitioner.
Talk to your GP or use the online NHS service finder to see if these courses are run near you. Their availability varies across the country and you may have to join a waiting list.
You can search for a private mindfulness teacher through the British Association of Mindfulness-Based Approaches. Some counsellors and therapists use mindfulness techniques as part of their approach. Our page on talking therapies has links to professional bodies you can search to find a qualified counsellor.
There are many books, CDs, apps and online courses you can use to practice mindfulness.
You could start with our guide ‘How to look after your mental health using mindfulness’. You can download it for free or order a printed copy for a small fee.
The Oxford Mindfulness Centre has free audio mindfulness session and links to books and other resources.
Mindfulness in daily life
As well as setting aside time for a more formal practice, you can practise mindfulness in daily life. For example:
- Notice everyday things like the air moving past you as you move, the feel of a bannister as you go upstairs, or the taste and textures of the food you eat
- Pick a regular time – such as your morning commute or evening walk – to be more aware of the sensations caused by the world around you
- Try something new, like a different route home from the station or a different seat on the bus. This can help you notice the world in a different way
- Watch your thoughts. If you sit quietly for a few moments, you will probably notice thoughts drifting through your mind. Instead of engaging with them, simply observe them and let them go
Mind has more simple mindfulness exercises you can try right now.