What mindfulness is

A ‘working definition’ of mindfulness is awareness that arises from:

  • paying attention, on purpose
  • in the present moment
  • non-judgmentally

(says Jon Kabat-Zinn in the video below)

It is difficult to pay attention like this without a great deal of practice.

pushupsOne way of practising is to decide to give all your attention to your breath for x minutes, and really be aware of the air coming in and going out for this amount of time. Whenever the mind wanders, as it will, bring attention gently back to the breath. Sort of mental press ups – the more you do it, the easier it gets.

But mindfulness is not about the breath per se; it’s about the paying attention to what is happening right now.

The non-judgment element of mindfulness is suspending judgement (of whether it’s good or bad for your mind to keep wandering, for example) – just experiencing things without assigning a label and an opinion.

How mindfulness alleviates depression

In other words, mindfulness is about developing the ability to become detached controllers and observers of our own minds (this is sometimes called ‘meta-awareness).  This enables us to:

  • focus our minds on, say, helpful rather than unhelpful things if we so choose
  • be aware of what our minds are doing and understand that the thoughts that pop into our heads are just thoughts: they are not us, and they are not necessarily true
  • control the meaning we give to thoughts, feelings and experiences

After repeated mindfulness practice – ie this deliberate paying attention – changes start to occur in the structure of the brain, through a process called neuroplasticity. The neural pathways that have developed in our brains over the years to govern thoughts, feelings and behaviours can be rewired when we forge new pathways through mindfulness.

This video explains neuroplasticity:

Here’s Ruby Wax on neuroplasticity (she starts talking about it at 4:51 after a preamble about what lead her to neuroplasticity, which you may have heard before):


Further reading

Peter Malinowski Meditation and Neuroplasticity: Five key articles 2014

mindfulness for depression: pay attention, this is important

6 thoughts on “mindfulness for depression: pay attention, this is important

  • Mindfulness is something I’m working on, it seems my mind wanders in so many different directions; it’s frustrating, wasteful, and…depressing. I’m trying very hard to improve my ability to focus, a work in progress.

    1. I’ve just finished my mindfulness course, and am still trying to absorb everything we were taught but being kind to yourself and not judging are two big elements of mindfulness to remember. Would it help to lower your expectations Lori, and be kinder to yourself? Our teacher kept telling us to bring our ‘beginner’s mind’ to the practice – just notice what is going on (ie mind constantly wandering) and think, ah there it goes again, isn’t that interesting). V difficult!! Good luck with it x

  • Love this post. I have a teacher who gets the group to meditate, then after a few minutes says, “Raise your hand whenever you lose your awareness.” It’s kind of funny, because of course as soon as you realize you’ve lost your awareness you start to raise your hand, but by then, your awareness is back. So my arm just looked like it was in a spasm throughout the exercise!

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