Start the Admissions Process Online

Fill out your information to receive a free, confidential call from the team at All Points North.

OR CALL US at
0207 193 1128


5 Mindfulness Practices to Stay Present

The practice of mindfulness is an ancient technique that has been used for thousands of years, with historians estimating the origins of mindfulness tracking back as far as 3,000 BCE. Eastern religious practices have used these practices to cultivate spiritual connection, as well as to alleviate the pressures of mental health concerns.

Despite this lineage of thousands of years, only recently have mindfulness practices gained recognition in the scientific community of the West. As more mental health researchers investigate mindfulness, the astounding benefits of mindfulness practices continue to be scientifically validated and incorporated into evidence-based treatment methods.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the term used to describe being present and centred in the moment. While mindfulness is often associated with specific meditation practices, the state of mindfulness can be achieved at any time, without a formal sitting practice of meditation being required.

Mindfulness is a state of consciousness, not an action or behaviour. To understand what this means and what this state of consciousness entails, it’s helpful to first explore how your consciousness and mind interact with one another.

States of Mindfulness

The mind and consciousness are separate but can often work in tandem with one another. Consciousness can be thought of as observation or attention, while the mind can be thought of as thoughts and emotions. Consciousness and mind can be turned off or on, leading to several different states:

  • Mind On, Consciousness On: Default waking state often associated with work and productivity
  • Mind On, Consciousness Off: The state often associated with dreaming, where you are unconscious but still experiencing thoughts and emotions
  • Mind Off, Consciousness On: The mindful state, where you are acutely aware of your surroundings but not lost in thought or emotion
  • Mind Off, Consciousness Off: The state experienced while sleeping but not dreaming, or while under anaesthesia

Just like sleep, the mindful state of consciousness isn’t simply an action you can take. Instead, mindfulness is a state that comes upon you. But just like sleep, you can learn several strategies and techniques to help you achieve a mindful state, which in turn can help alleviate many mental health struggles.

How Mindfulness Practices Benefit Mental Health

Mental health disorders are disruptions of the mind. When people feel anxious, depressed, or traumatised — or as if they are under a compulsion — it is the mind that drives them to act in certain ways, feel certain emotions, or think certain thoughts.

Learning to achieve a state where the mind is quieted through mindfulness practices can help people find relief from these symptoms. Take depression as an example.

People experiencing depression often get caught in negative thought loops, where they ruminate on past experiences or engage in extended negative self-talk. By engaging in mindfulness practices, these thought loops can be broken. Learning to turn the mind off can cut the loops off entirely.

This isn’t just a temporary reprieve, either. Often, learning a mindfulness technique that breaks these loops means that when you return from the mindful state, the negative thought patterns will be broken entirely. They may return in time, but this temporary reprieve can be incredibly important for working toward a better state of mental health.

The Growing Science of Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness techniques have rapidly transitioned from ancient wisdom into practical, evidence-based approaches for treating mental health disorders. This is perhaps best seen in what are referred to as “third-wave therapies,” which have quickly become a leading therapeutic technique for mental health professionals.

Take a closer look at how the science of mindfulness techniques has evolved from first-wave to third-wave techniques.

First-Wave Therapies

The first-wave therapies include psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies. These therapies focus on helping people understand their unconscious impulses and recognise the healing power of people simply talking about their challenges.

Second-Wave Therapies

The second-wave therapies are still prevalent today and include approaches such as:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy
  • Rational emotive therapy
  • Cognitive therapy

These therapies instead focus on behaviour. First-wave therapies struggled to reach scientific significance since they dealt with amorphous concepts, but by tracking measurable aspects of behaviour, second-wave therapies quickly achieved evidence-based status.

Second-wave therapies have revolutionised mental health care and become a go-to approach for helping people with mental health challenges such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, and several other common mental health conditions.

Third-Wave Therapies

Third-wave therapies are the newest form of evidence-based therapeutic techniques. While they incorporate the core elements of second-wave therapies, they also recognise that a strict focus on behaviour doesn’t always meet the needs of clients with mental health challenges.

To resolve this challenge, third-wave therapies have begun to incorporate mindfulness practices and techniques that help people develop healthy coping skills, tools for everyday life, and stable mental health.

Rather than attempting to eliminate negative thoughts or emotions, which isn’t always possible, third-wave therapists teach their clients skills to accept difficult situations, enter a state of mindfulness, and tolerate distressing situations.

Some of the more common third-wave therapy approaches include:

  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy

These new styles of therapy are helping more people than ever before and have quickly found success in treating mental health disorders that were considered untreatable with second-wave therapies alone.

5 Mindfulness Practices to Stay Present

Mindfulness practices can hold significant power in supporting mental health, but you’re likely wondering what practices can be helpful. The state of mindfulness can be achieved at any time, in any place. It doesn’t necessarily require complete silence, sitting on a cushion, or closing your eyes in a cross-legged posture.

1. Focus Meditation

Focus meditation is one of the simplest mindfulness practices to learn and is often the stepping stool that sparks a lifelong practice of mindfulness techniques. Focus meditation is relatively simple — take a comfortable seat and direct your attention entirely to an object in front of you.

The object of your attention isn’t the most important part of the practice, but common focuses include a burning candle, a piece of incense, a tree in the distance, or even a blank wall or piece of furniture.

Paying attention to your breath is another form of focus meditation, where you experience every sensation of a breath — from the draw of air on your lips and the stretching of your lungs on your inhale to the heat of the exhale.

The goal of focus meditation is to entirely commit your mind to this simple task. Notice the object of focus; pay attention to it and nothing else. If your attention drifts or your mind begins to wander, return your attention to your focus object.

By giving your mind a simple task to focus on, you draw its energy away from racing thoughts, emotions, or overanalysis. Eventually, the mind settles, calms down, and stops dictating the course of your internal life. From here, you may experience a shift to the mindful state and experience a sense of tranquillity.

2. Insight Meditation

Insight meditation is a slightly more advanced form of mindfulness practice. Rather than focusing on an object to distract the mind, insight meditation asks you to observe the mind itself.

You may have heard the phrase, “You are not your thoughts.” But without experiencing the difference between consciousness and mind yourself, this distinction can be hard to understand.

To practise insight meditation, first take a comfortable seat. It can be helpful to start with a focus meditation, where you observe the breath or put your focus on an object in front of you. Once you are feeling relaxed, the goal is to simply notice your thoughts as they arise.

You may find that your mind races from topic to topic. You may not even realise you are thinking until well into a thought. But each time you notice the thought, you’ll recognise that the thought goes away. You may ask yourself questions like:

  • Where did the thought come from?
  • Where did the thought go?
  • Who is observing the thought?

The key to insight meditation is this understanding of the separateness of awareness (consciousness) and thought (mind).

3. Loving-Kindness Meditation

A loving-kindness meditation takes a still different approach to mindfulness. Instead of attempting to quiet the mind, a loving-kindness meditation trains you to harness the mind in a productive way.

Loving-kindness meditation starts just the same as focus or insight meditation — in a comfortable seated posture. But as you begin to relax, bring to mind someone that you care for deeply, with whom you have an uncomplicated and loving relationship.

Recognise that you only want the best for this person. Wish them well, and hope for their happiness. Experience what it is like to simply show love and kindness toward another person, and focus on that experience of sympathetic joy that these feelings can bring.

4. Yoga Practice

Physical yoga practice is a way of bringing the act of mindfulness into a physical activity. There are several different types of yoga that you can try, including:

  • Yin Yoga: A practice that focuses on deep stretches and restoration
  • Hatha Yoga: A practice that emphasises the breath and posture
  • Vinyasa Yoga: A flowing yoga practice that focuses on smooth transitions between poses

Whichever style of yoga you choose, the core principle of a yoga practice is to connect the mind and body together. By breathing as you move, flowing through different poses, and drawing your attention to your body, you can find mindfulness through movement.

5. Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is a method of bringing your full attention to the meals and food you eat. You can think of mindful eating as a way of bringing the mindful state into everyday activities and drawing on the sense of presence and tranquillity you’ve experienced in meditation as you navigate the real world.

Think of mindful eating as another form of focus meditation, with the focus of attention being the meal at hand. How does it smell? What does it feel like? How would you describe the taste, and how does the taste change throughout the meal?

Mindful eating is a tool used by many professionals to help people who have concerns about overeating. By paying careful attention to your meals, you can enjoy them more and recognise the signals your body sends when you feel full or satisfied.

Mindfulness in Everyday Life

No matter which mindfulness practices you try, the important thing to recognise is that mindfulness is a skill, and training that skill can support you through everyday challenges. When you’ve experienced the tranquillity of mindfulness, you can bring it to mind during any stressful situation.

If you’d like to learn more about how APN London uses mindfulness practices to help our clients overcome mental health challenges, reach out to our team by filling out our confidential online contact form, using the live chat function on our website, or calling us today.

References

  • Khoury B, Lecomte T, Fortin G, et al. Mindfulness-based therapy: a comprehensive meta-analysis. 2013. In: Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK153338/
  • Uliaszek, Amanda A., et al. “Third-wave Psychotherapies.” 2020, https://doi.org/10.1093/med/9780198836506.003.0013. Accessed 6 Apr. 2024.