All good questions, so let's start with the first one.
Mindfulness is a very popular term at the moment and it tends to be used in conjunction with relaxing or wellbeing and while it can help with both of these things. That's not what Mindfulness is.
In a nutshell, Mindfulness is having a single point of focus. The term is long associated with Buddhism but it is not something that was created by the Buddha. He observed this technique of observation in the Hindu religion, experienced it and found it to be helpful in relieving his suffering.
That's not to say that you must be Buddhist to use mindfulness, far from it. The buddha was not a creator, he was an man who experienced life and suffering and shared what he found to end his suffering. In fact I would say that the Buddha was a most amazing psychologist and that mindfulness is actually the pre cursor to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which is now widely available. Both help us to identify a cause of suffering, work out how to change a mindset or behaviour at the root of the suffering and apply that strategy to our life going forward.
What does having a single point of focus actually mean?
It means that if you are washing the dishes mindfully, you're focusing only on the task of washing up. You are NOT planning the diner/ listening to the tv or talking to the kids / partner/ dog while you do it.
How do you do it?
You concentrate on the task at hand.
This can be anything, a conversation, watching TV, walking through town. You are not trying to change anything, you are observing what you are doing, how it makes you feel and what you are thinking.
Why do we do it?
Because it enables us to focus. It reduces the noise in our heads and enables us to be more aware of our thoughts and feelings.
Why do we want to be more aware of our thoughts and feelings?
Because they can cause us conflict, anger and pain. It is this pain that is at the root of our unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Once we become aware of how and what we think, what our triggers, beliefs and preconceptions are, we can begin to address them so that they no longer have power over us. We can do this by examining how we respond and questioning why we respond in that way, where that behaviour comes from and whether it helps or hinders us in our lives. It is by doing this that we can claim control over our life and the way we interact with others and the external world. The more aware we are of our inner workings, the more we will find that our relationships improve, conflict lessens, anxiety and depression are easier to manage if not all together avoidable.
Does it work?
This depends on what you are expecting. If you are expecting immediate Zen like calm and to feel relaxed, probably not.
But if you are wanting to:
Reduce the noise in your head,
Feel more in control,
Know yourself better
Experience life fully
Have better relationships
Then yes. ABSOLUTELY!
Taking responsibility for your own wellbeing, becoming aware of your self talk and automatic reactions and making improvements in all these areas of your life, will help your relationships improve, conflict and confrontation reduce, stress and anxiety lessen and life flow easier. It will also help you to attract the right people to you and therefore your life will become more Zen like and relaxed.