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Mindfulness for health explained

Many believe that practising mindfulness helps to bring control back to busy lives.

So many of us live with an ever-lengthening to-do list whirring around our heads. Is mindfulness the solution that will help us slow down and reclaim control? 

What is mindfulness?

“In one word, mindfulness is awareness,” says Ed Halliwell, author of Mindfulness: How To Live Well By Paying Attention. “The issue is many of us spend a lot of time on autopilot, get caught up in activities like deadlines, work, family and so on, and we live in quite a speedy world.” He adds: “And so we can find ourselves driven by our thoughts, our feelings, what’s going on in our bodies and what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is a way of practising awareness so that we can become more conscious of what is driving us – we can get to know our internal experience and thoughts and feelings and what’s going on around us.”

How do you do it?

“Mindfulness practices are often meditation, ways of training our minds to pay attention to our experience,” says Halliwell, who practises and teaches mindfulness. “It can be paying attention to what’s going on around us or what’s going on within us. It tends to mean connecting with our senses because most of us spend a lot of time in our heads, thinking and being driven by our thinking, so it’s a way of coming down into our senses, which is how we directly perceive the world.”

What are the benefits? 

“When we slow down, which is part of practising meditation, we start to see how we’re being driven and then we begin to get the choice of not being pulled in so many different directions – and maybe to make some healthier choices,” says Halliwell. 

“By understanding how our mind and the body work, we’re getting to know what works for us and what doesn’t, and we can then make choices about how we do that.”

Halliwell says that mindfulness can be helpful for people who suffer anxiety or depressive episodes, but that you don’t need to be experiencing these to benefit.

“Any of us who perhaps are experiencing the stress of the world and the stress of our reactions to the world can benefit,” he says.

“It seems to have quite a wide potential benefit on our mental health, our physical health, how we behave – many of us can get caught up in unhealthy behaviours.”

Could it be for you?

Why not try a taste of mindfulness by watching this video from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre?

The Mental Health Foundation runs an online course (and Ed Halliwell is one of its tutors):