WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
You’ve probably seen or heard the term mindfulness before. You may have experienced it to some degree without even realizing it. So, what exactly is mindfulness?
THE DEFINITION OF MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness, in simple terms, is bringing your awareness into the present moment without judgement or attachment to thoughts or feelings.
HOW DOES MINDFULNESS WORK?
Here are topics we'll cover to help you get started with mindfulness:
Basics of mindfulness
History of mindfulness
Benefits of mindfulness
Tenets of mindfulness
Types of mindfulness practices
Simple mindfulness exercises to use everyday
"STOPPING TO SMELL THE ROSES"
Let’s get back to what I mentioned in the beginning. You’ve probably experienced mindfulness before and just didn’t realize it.
Have you ever felt compelled to stop and look at a beautiful flower? When you did, you noticed the things that were right under your nose. You smelled the sweet fragrance, saw its radiant color, and possibly heard a bee buzzing inside of it.
After you noticed it, you felt joy, calm, awe, wonder, happiness, and peace. You felt a deep connection to that experience because you were in the present moment, practicing mindfulness.
There are different names and phrases that we call mindfulness, such as being in the zone, being aware, being in the present moment, or slowing down, to name a few.
Other words related to mindfulness: attention, awareness, mindful, reflection, self-recollection.
Mindfulness has become more popular since its inception into the mainstream in the 1970’s.
Mindfulness as we know it today has seen an evolution. It has been watered down from its esoteric roots in religious and spiritual practices and adopted into programs within schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans’ centers, etc.
THE HISTORY OF MINDFULNESS
Although the concept of mindfulness has its roots largely in Buddhism and Hinduism, anyone can apply the basic ideas of mindfulness in their daily life. Buddhists such as Thich Nhat Hanh, have been at the forefront of introducing & teaching mindfulness training and practices to the west.
In the 1970’s, Jon Kabat-Zinn studied under Buddhist teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Philip Kapleau, and Seung Sahn. He stripped away the Buddhist context and created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (AKA MBSR) program to help people alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.
The purpose of mindfulness.
The purpose of mindfulness, to some, is to achieve a state of greater understanding and acceptance of the present moment through regular practice.
Others view mindfulness as a skill that can be attained with repeated exercises rather than a state of being.
Why practice mindfulness?
The practice of mindfulness can not only help to reduce stress and unpleasant emotions but to gain a greater understanding of the world. When you are aware of the present moment, you start to recognize patterns that cause you stress and discomfort.
Others have found greater compassion, acceptance, resilience, and connection to themselves and others through mindfulness practices. It fosters insight, self-awareness, and wisdom.
TENETS OF MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness can be broken down into 3 main components.
In the context of mindfulness, intention is about choosing to give attention to our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and awareness again and again.
Attention is about observing our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they come up without analysis or judgement.
Attitude is about approaching the present moment with non-judgment and compassion.
THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS.
There are numerous studies that support mindfulness as a tool to aid in the treatment of physical, behavioral, and mental disorders. Here are some useful ways mindfulness practices are beneficial.
Helps treat addiction.
Studies have shown the increasing support of mindfulness exercises and meditations as a form of complementary therapy for behavioral and substance abuse.
Although small, the studies were promising. Participants were better able to handle the stress that came with cessation of addictive behaviors.
Associated with healthy cell aging.
There is data linking stress arousal and cognitive appraisal to telomere length. Telomere length is associated with healthy cells and aging. Stressors contribute to shorter telomeres, which decreases the life of a cell.
Whereas mindfulness practices are associated with lowered stress, greater physical health, and increased cell protection and longevity.
In one controlled study, health care professionals were given MBSR interventions to help decrease stress, psychological stress and depression and increase overall life satisfaction and self-compassion.
At the end of the study, a significant number of the participants reported decreased perceived stress and job burnout and greater self-compassion and satisfaction with life.
Helps mediate anxiety and depression.
In another study, participants showed overall decreased depression and anxiety as a result of mindfulness meditations.
The study revealed that mindfulness was useful as a mediator for depression and anxiety by decreasing rumination and worry.
Decreases rumination and worry.
Studies have shown that mindfulness practices help counteract rumination and worry.
Mindfulness allows individuals to come back to the present moment when they are having negative, repetitive thoughts and eventually become more resilient to unpleasant emotions and discomfort.
Mindfulness practices have also proven to help increase overall well-being and quality of life.
Physical benefits for weight management.
In a small study, individuals with a BMI of over 30 were selected to participate in a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (aka MBCT) for weight loss and maintenance.
At the end of the 8 MBCT training sessions and subsequent follow-ups, participants showed significant weight loss and were able to maintain it without other interventions.
May help lower inflammation.
Mindfulness-based programs were tested and studied for the effects on the immune system and inflammation.
In a literature review, findings revealed that mindfulness-based practices and exercises helped to boost the immune system of certain individuals. They also helped to lower markers for inflammation, which may help in age and stress related diseases.
The popularity of Mindfulness.
Mindfulness, although increasing in popularity, has its share of criticism. Some practitioners of mindfulness don’t approve of its privatization and commercialization, which has resulted in a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Some people have even reported worsening symptoms of stress, fear, panic and anxiety as a result of mindfulness practices. However, experts attributed this to possible poor understanding of mindfulness practices.
TYPES OF MINDFULNESS PRACTICES
THERE ARE 2 WAYS TO PRACTICE MINDFULNESS:
This is usually done sitting or lying down with eyes closed and meditating in silence. The formal meditations are done on a regular basis to help deepen and hone the mindfulness practices.
This involves walking or engaging in some sort of activity that necessitates bringing your awareness to the present moment.
How should I practice mindfulness?
You can practice both formal and informal mindfulness practices throughout your day as needed, and depending on your situation.
For instance, you can start your day with a formal practice before you get out of bed (such as the breathing meditation), when you are feeling calm. Then, you can try an informal practice, such as walking meditation, to help bring awareness, acceptance and compassion during extremely stressful times (such as panic or severe anxiety).
SIMPLE MINDFULNESS EXERCISES TO USE DAILY
This is a simple exercise you can do each day to help bring awareness to the present moment. You don’t have to spend an hour meditating each day, although it’s beneficial to meditate for 20 minutes a day.
If you’re a parent, working, or both, you probably have even less time to meditate each day. However, you can still reap the benefits of mindful meditation just by meditating for 5 minutes a day.
How to do the 5-minute breathing meditation
The best time to do this is in the morning before everyone else is awake. However, you can choose the time of day that works best for you. Just make sure you have some peace and quiet.
Scientific studies have proven that daily meditation helps to relieve stress and reduce anxiety. Meditation is not about emptying your mind of thoughts. Forcing yourself to do this may cause more stress.
When thoughts or unpleasant feelings come up:
Simply become aware of them and allow yourself to feel them completely.
Then let go and watch them float away, like a balloon on a string.
Gently bring your attention back to your breath.
If the thoughts and feelings keep coming back, keep repeating steps 1-3. You will do this over and over and that’s okay. With time, you will notice them less and less and train your mind be present.
Go ahead and find a comfortable sitting position on your bed or on a chair.
Right now, you can listen to the download, or if you prefer, continue reading and find a place afterward to meditate.
Take a slow, deep breath in with your nose. Then exhale slowly through your mouth. If you find this difficult to do, just breath normally and simply notice your breath going in and out. Repeat this 2 more times and relax your breathing.
Now close your eyes and relax your head, your neck, your shoulders, arms, torso, legs and feet.
Begin to notice the bed or chair underneath you. Observe the texture and firmness.
Continue to breathe in slowly and deeply, and exhale slowly and completely. If your mind wanders, that okay, gently bring it back to your breath and continue the breathing cycle. Notice your lungs and belly expand and empty as you breathe in and out.
Your mind will wander many, many times. That is okay. It's actually great because now you are noticing your wandering thoughts. Just remember to observe what is happening, allow the thought, feeling or sensation to flow through and gently let it go.
Bring your awareness back to the present moment. When you are ready, open your eyes slowly.
You will achieve positive results with meditation if you continue to practice daily. Over time, your thoughts and emotions will control you less and less. Use your breath to bring awareness to the present moment. With time and gentle persistence, your stress and anxiety levels should also decrease.
BODY SCAN MEDITATION
This meditation allows you to bring your attention to your body sensations, which are often ignored, especially when the body is giving signals such as mild pain or irritation.
This meditation is often done lying down or sitting in a comfortable position. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and can focus on your body. You can read about and listen to the recording if you want to practice at home.
Studies have shown that the body scan meditation can help to bring relief when we are feeling stress, irritation, or discomfort.
LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION
The practice of loving kindness meditation fosters kindness, compassion and love. You send loving kindness to yourself and others while you meditate. Download the script and recording if you want to start or deepen your skill.
Studies have shown that the loving kindness meditation can help to lower stress and anxiety. This practice takes the focus from oneself into the present moment with the intention of sending loving kindness.
This exercise is an informal meditation that can help to develop mindfulness practices. Your focus is directed to a raisin as you observe your reactions before, during and after to consume it.
Give yourself about 5 minutes to do this practice. Try it for at least a week so you can reap the benefits of this type of meditation.
Instructions for the raisin meditation
Take a raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand or between your finger and thumb.
Take time to really see the raisin with care and full attention. Imagine that you’ve never seen it before in your life. Let your eyes explore every part of it, the folds, ridges, & wrinkles.
Turn the raisin over between your fingers and touch it. You may do this with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch.
Now hold the raisin under your nose and smell it. With each inhalation, take in any smell or aroma that arises. As you do this, notice anything interesting that may be happening in your mouth or stomach.
Slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm are positioned. Gently place the raisin in your mouth. Before you chew, notice how it got into your mouth in the first place. Explore the sensations in your mouth and on your tongue.
Prepare to chew the raisin, noticing its position before chewing. Then, bite into it and really tasteit without swallowing. Notice the sensations in your mouth and how they change with each moment. Pay attention to the changes in the raisin itself and you chew.
When you’re ready, swallow the raisin and see if you can first sense the intention to swallow it before you actually engage in the act.
Lastly, follow the raisin as it moves down into your stomach. Notice your body sensations after you are finished.
If you don’t like raisins, you can try this meditation with another type of food or drink. You can even try it as a full meal. The concept remains the same.
The walking meditation is an informal practice that uses your body and mind to bring your awareness to the present moment without any attachments to a particular outcome. It allows you to practice mindfulness meditation anywhere and anytime.
You may even use it as life preserver, by taking your focus away from extremely unpleasant feelings such as a panic attack, to help calm you down. With practice, you will be able to meet these emotions with greater resilience, and release them, as they come.
HOW TO DO THE WALKING MEDITATION
Choose a convenient time to walk without distraction for 5 minutes. As you become aware of each step, notice your thoughts, feelings and sensations. If you’re having a strong, unpleasant emotion, notice how the surface feels beneath your feet. Bring your attention to your muscles as they tense and relax.
Become aware of what you are stepping into. Notice your breath as you take each step. If your mind starts to wander, bring your awareness back to your body and breath. Feel the connection between yourself and your surroundings.
You may be able to release the unpleasant thoughts and feelings with greater ease as you focus on walking and breathing. Continue to embrace, release and let them go.
You can approach this exercise in two ways.
Schedule a time to do it. Time yourself for 5 minutes and take a walk. The best place is near nature, e.g. a park or the beach, if you can. Walk slowly and intentionally. Be aware of your breath, movements and surroundings with each step. Notice your feelings and sensations as you walk. Continue to practice this daily. You can make it shorter or longer if you wish.
Be mindful of your steps wherever you are for 5 minutes. Just like the first method, when you are walking, be slow and intentional. Be aware of your breath, movements and surroundings with every step you take. Notice your emotions, thoughts and sensations as you walk. You can do this any time, e.g. walking from your bed to the bathroom, while walking down the stairs, while walking to the kitchen.
A short list of other practical mindfulness exercises:
A bathing or shower meditation.
How to eat mindfully.
Doing mindful chores.
The mindfulness techniques and tips you learned are proven tools to help overcome difficult emotions and situations. They are not a magic bullet, but with practice, will allow you to cultivate awareness, acceptance, compassion and understanding for yourself and others.
Mindfulness may serve as a gateway to greater resilience and emotions that are uplifting, such as joy, peace, and love. I hope these tools enable you to seamlessly weave mindfulness practices into your daily life.
Helpful article: Mindful morning routine | 12 blissful ways to start your day
Do you want to learn how to nurture and strengthen your mind, body and spirit with simple, daily habits, in just 5 days?