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What is mindfulness? Hear from a former Myanmar monk

There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of mindfulness. It’s been around for over 2,500 years and has been an important part of psychological practices since the 1970s – but what actually is it? 

What is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is the practice of paying full attention to what is going on both in you and outside you, moment by moment, without judgment. Being mindful means observing your thoughts, feelings, and the sensations of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. You are fully aware of your surroundings.

“[Mindfulness is] the conscious direction of awareness, which means noticing what you are doing, thinking or feeling at any given time. It’s about improving your attention and being fully present in whatever is that you are doing,” Amelia Twiss, registered psychologist at Twiss Psychology says. 

“Often we divide our focus between multiple demands on our attention for example, talking to someone on the phone whilst reading email or driving whilst trying to send a text”. 

“When you are being mindful, you are consciously paying attention to what you are doing as you are doing it and not thinking about other things”. 

Mindfulness from a monk

Hugo Germon is a former 2-year Buddhist monk, who practised meditation in Myanmar every day for up to 8 hours a day. 

Germon, who stayed in renowned forest monastery Pa Auk Tawya, says an unsteady mind, lack of self-confidence and stress prompted him to begin meditating.

“Going through this course has helped me tremendously,” Germon says. “Thanks to meditation I’ve built a very significant understanding of the things I was initially seeking to learn about. 

My mind is much stronger than it was.”

Germon, who began the practice with a “precise idea” of what he needed to improve on, “namely peace of mind, understanding, and knowledge”, says it’s exactly what he found. 

Germon has since applied his learnings in Myanmar to a daily practice in mindfulness and meditation. 

“Since I’ve come back from Myanmar, I try to meditate as much as possible to at least enter this state of mindfulness,” he says.  

“Unfortunately, I don’t have time to meditate eight hours a day anymore!”

Staying mindful of trauma

Twiss notes some mindfulness practices or body focused meditations may not be helpful for everyone.  

“Sometimes people who have experienced trauma find breath or body based exercises very difficult,” she says. 

“In this case, it can be better to focus your mindfulness practice on things outside your body or choose an alternate activity to help you relax and be present.”

Germon says adapting mindfulness and meditation to your daily life requires practice. 

“Meditation is a slow process where the mind slowly adapts itself and becomes stronger and stronger. Try not to expect quick results,” he says. 

“It’s always worth trying, he says. “You never know how a person is going to respond to it. So, why not give it a try? The benefits could be enormous.” 

How to try mindfulness

Headspace has compiled a number of easy resources to get you started on your mindfulness practice. Exercises range from mindful eating, to visualisation, to meditations as fast as one minute. 

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