What is mindfulness? 

Paying attention in a particular way in the present moment, non-judgementally

Mindfulness means paying attention to one of three things:

  • Your breath
  • Physical sensations in your body
  • Or one of your senses

Whenever your mind wanders, you gently bring your attention back.

How to practise mindfulness

Here’s an example of how to practise mindfulness.

In a 10-minute mindfulness practice, we might sit and listen to whatever sounds are happening around us. It’s the act of simply sitting, listening, and noticing sounds.

Sooner or later, your mind will drift off into thinking mode – daydreaming, worrying, planning.

You’ll then realise you’re no longer paying attention to the sounds and thinking about something else.

This noticing is a moment of mindfulness, and it’s a natural part of the process.

When this happens, simply notice where your mind went. Register the thought: “I’m thinking about that email I need to respond to.”

Without giving yourself a hard time, escort your attention back to where you intended it to be (in this case, listening to sounds).

Keep returning your attention every time it drifts away. This could be a couple of times or a couple of hundred times.

It doesn’t matter how many times your mind drifts; it’s the noticing and returning that counts – and doing it gently, without self-criticism.

All these little pockets of pause throughout the day have been proven to gently reduce stress and anxiety.

Contact us - crop of floral painting

How else can I be mindful?

There are so many ways to be mindful. Throughout the day, stop and take notice of what’s happening using your senses.

For example, when you’re on the bus, close your eyes for a moment and notice all the different sounds around you.

Or, slow down and really taste the first three bites of a delicious sandwich before going back to that email.

Instead of automatically checking your phone every time you’re in a queue, look around and notice what you can see. Examine details in architecture, different shades of green in nature, or curious reflections in glass-fronted buildings.

All these little pockets of pause throughout the day will gently reduce your stress and anxiety levels by taking a more mindful approach to life.

Why is mindfulness good for health and wellbeing?

Paying attention to a sensory experience enables us to observe our thoughts as they arise, moment by moment.

This act of observing thoughts can dramatically change your relationship with them. You will no longer automatically act on them or accept their validity but rather see them for what they are: just thoughts

Thoughts, not as facts or absolute truths. And with practise, we come to the profound understanding that all thought and feeling are transient, including negative ones.

This is the cornerstone of good mental health and wellbeing.

You might think becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings wouldn’t be good or helpful, especially if you’re stressed or feeling down.

It might seem better to ignore negative thoughts or find a way to rid yourself of them. But that’s not the case – because what we resist persists.

So, by facing and acknowledging difficult thoughts and emotions, you’re giving yourself space and permission to heal and move forward in a healthy way.

Contact us - crop of floral painting

What does science tell us about mindfulness?

Studies show that, over time, mindfulness brings about long-term changes in mood and levels of happiness and wellbeing.

We’re more curious, more emotionally resilient and more compassionate.

Clinical trials by Oxford University prove mindfulness can be highly effective in preventing depression.

But you don’t have to be clinically unwell to benefit from mindfulness.

In fact, mindfulness helps you respond to the stresses of modern life. Many of us are anxious, exhausted, and find the demands of life overwhelming.

You rush from one task or obligation to the next, giving your mind and emotions little rest from the external demands on your attention.

How does mindfulness reduce stress?

Did you know neuroscientists have proven mindfulness improves your brain’s ability to manage stress?

MRI scans show that, after an 8-week course of mindfulness meditations, the amygdala (the brain’s fight, flight or freeze centre) appears to shrink.

This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is heavily involved in the body’s response to stress.

Brain scans taken before and after participants’ meditation programme also found increased grey matter in the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory.

Benefits of mindfulness for mental health

Practising mindfulness will have an incredibly positive impact on your life and mental health.

The benefits of mindfulness include:

  • Lifting your mood
  • Improving your memory
  • Increasing your ability to learn
  • Boosting your creativity
  • Helping you focus
  • Decreasing stress
  • Enhancing your quality of life

Being mindful makes you more curious, more emotionally resilient, and more compassionate to yourself and others, which creates a higher quality of life and an overall feeling of wellness and contentment.

Ready to explore mindfulness at Manchester Art Gallery and boost your wellbeing?

Check out our events page or follow us on social media to see how to practise mindfulness with art and feel happier and healthier.