How to practice mindfulness

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How to practice mindfulness: staying present can reduce stress in our busy modern lives

Did you know that the art of mindfulness has ancient roots? Discover how living in the moment can make modern life less stressful.

Mindfulness can help you sleep better, improve mental health, lower blood pressure and reduce stress.

While it may be now propagated in the main by self-help experts, spiritual leaders or psychologists, mindfulness is no new fad. We look at some of the big names behind the rise in popularity of meditative living, both then and ‘now', for tips on how to practice it.

1. Lao-Tzu (6/5BC-5/4BC)

Philosopher and poet Lao-Tzu was the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching and the founder of philosophical Taoism (although some historians are unsure whether he was a man or a legend). A legendary figure in Chinese culture LaoTzu’s work has been enjoyed over the centuries for its lyrical descriptions of Daoism – a philosophy of life encompassing everything, with no primary god.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

2. Seneca (4BC-AD65)

The Roman philosopher who introduced many of the basic philosophical ideas of Stoicism was also one of the earliest scholars to make a conscious point living in the present.

“True happiness is... to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.”

3. Marcus Aurelius

The Roman Emperor from 161AD to 180AD is considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers but also lived his life around the simple precept: “You have power over your mind -- not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”

4. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Mohandas Gandhi’s profound spirituality and belief in justice inspired the world, and his honorific name of Mahatma (“Great soul”) is a reflection of how deeply his words of wisdom were received by the people of India and the world, and his focus on meditation

“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

5. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist, widely recognised as inherently mystical as well as lyrical has been enthusiastically embraced by many interested in mindfulness.

“Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.”

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6. Kalil Gilbran (1883-1931)

The Prophet, an early example of inspirational fiction including a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose was written by celebrated Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran, and is one of the most popular volumes of poetry ever written, selling over 100 million copies in 40 languages since its publication in 1923. 

“Your daily life is your temple and your religion. When you enter into it take with you your all.”

7. Thích Nat Hanh (b. 1926)

Often considered the most influential living figure in Zen Buddhism, Thích Nat Hanh was a pioneer in bringing Buddhism to the West. A Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, he joined a Zen monastery at the age of 16 and today lives in southwest France. His key teaching is that mindfulness, which he calls ‘a serene encounter with reality’ is the only way to develop peace, both in one’s self and in the world.

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”

8. Eckhart Tolle (b 1948)

German-born ‘Power of Now’ author Eckhart Tolle was feted in 2011 as  one of the most spiritually influential people in the world. Also the author of A New Earth: Awakening to your Life's Purpose, Eckhart’s core message, based largely on Zen Buddhism, is that instead of spending time regretting the past or worrying about the future, one should concentrate only on the present.

“The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.”

9. Jeff Foster (b. 1980)

Having studied Astrophysics at Cambridge University, in his mid-twenties, after a period of depression and illness, Jeff Foster became convinced of the idea of ‘spiritual enlightenment’ and embarked on a spiritual quest for the truth of existence. After a while he started to believe there was no such thing and focused instead on the discovery of ‘the extraordinary in the ordinary’ of every day life. Now he travels the world speaking and writing about the importance of deep acceptance for the present moment.

“Stop trying to heal yourself, fix yourself, even awaken yourself. Let go of letting go. Stop trying to fast-forward the movie of your life…Regret is rewind, the longing to change the past. Fear is fast forward, the desire to control the future. Peace is ‘Play’, a thrilling freefall into the aliveness of Now.”


10. Rabindrath Tagore (1861-1941)

A devoted friend of Gandhi, Tagore won the Nobel prize for literature in 1913 for his acclaimed, inspiring poetry which was beautifully life-affirming and promoted inner peace.

“Now is the time to sit quiet, face to face with thee, and to sing dedication of life in this silent and over-flowing leisure.”

11. Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

Chilean poet-diplomat and politician, Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature just before he died in 1971, and apparently always wrote in green ink, as he said it was the colour of hope.

“Someday, somewhere - anywhere, unfailingly, you'll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life.” 

12. William Blake (1757-1827)

English poet, artist and visionary, Blake’s genius was largely unrecognised during the time he was alive but is now seen as a leading figure in the Romantic movement.

“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower/hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

13. Herman Hesse (1877-1962)

The German writer specialised in books exploring an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality.

"Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself."

14. Tara Brach (born 1953)

The American psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach is a proponent of Buddhist meditation and promoter of the theory of “Radical Acceptance”. The series of free podcasts on her website should soothe even the most frazzled soul.  

“What would it be like if I could accept life – accept this moment – exactly as it is?”

15. Dalai Lama (born 1935)

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, and promotes kindness and mindful actions in all we do. A patron of the organization Action for Happiness, he gave his blessing recently to a range of mindfulness courses for UK residents, and speaks regularly of the importance of daily meditation.

“If we examine ourselves every day with mindfulness and mental alertness, checking our thoughts, motivations, and their manifestations in external behavior, a possibility for change and self-improvement can open within us.”

16. Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD is known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher who has made it his aim to bring mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. Creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic as far back as 1979, the author and teacher has contributed to a growing movement of bringing mindfulness into mainstream institutions such as hospitals, schools, corporations, prisons and professional sports.

“Just watch this moment, without trying to change it at all. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear?”

17. Deepak Chopra

Often melding science and spirituality, Chopra the author, guru, and speaker has worked tirelessly to create new methods for mindfulness, and stresses that ‘Multitasking is the only skill that gets worse with practice’.

“I've worked all my life on the subject of awareness, whether it's awareness of the body, awareness of the mind, awareness of your emotions, awareness of your relationships, or awareness of your environment. I think the key to transforming your life is to be aware of who you are.

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