Today I would like to share with you the following:
- What does it mean to be mindful
- The benefits of mindfulness and why we should practice being mindful
- The importance of it
- Techniques to achieve it
What does it mean to be mindful?
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
For many of us, we go throughout our day on auto pilot as re-actors. Meaning we react to this or we react to that – constantly judging what’s before us as good or bad/right or wrong. And in doing so, we our bodies respond accordingly, providing us with corresponding physical sensations.
Here are some examples I believe we can all relate to:
Think about a moment while either driving a car or being a passenger in one and someone cuts you off. Chances are your first reaction is to become upset. Like what the hell? Did they not see you? I mean they didn’t even have the courtesy to use their signals. Now either you let it go or you speed up, changed lanes to see who had the audacity to perform such a careless, disrespectful and possibly dangerous maneuver.
Or maybe you see a post on Facebook that YOU may find “not funny” yet, another commenter does and expresses same. So what do you do? You become upset and express your dislike for their action, which, they may respond that you should lighten up, probably pissing you off more.
Now let’s say you were practicing mindfulness, how would that look? Well, for the driver that cut you off wouldn’t bother you because you acknowledge that nothing dangerous resulted from it, but instead, the person just switched from one lane into yours. No accidents…no harm…no foul.
As for the Facebook poster – they had their own experience with what was presented to them. It was neither right nor wrong – it just is.
Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing them to be “true”. Keeping in mind that what may be right for us today, will not necessarily be right to us tomorrow.
The benefits and importance of mindfulness and why we should practice being mindful
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Here are some of these benefits:
- Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal studyfound that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Our bodies are designed to repair damages we cause to it without having to pop a pill or run to the doctor at any signs of illness.
- Mindfulness is good for our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stressors to the body. In fact, at least one study suggests it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depressionand preventing relapse. I can contest to this. In working with a client, it was expressed to me that they no longer wanted to take their antidepressant medication any longer. So with my help and in learning about being mindful to their thoughts, they were able to do so successfully without relapsing, after being told they would spend the rest of their lives taking them.
- Mindfulness changes our brains (physically): Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy. The brain rewires its self and begins to fire in areas unused.
- Mindfulness helps us focus: Mindfulness helps us tune out distractionsand improves our memory and attention skills. By focusing on what’s currently in front of us, we are able to create better moments for the near future without thoughts of failure and not succeeding.
- Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism: Research suggests mindfulness training makes us more likely to help someone in needand increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well. Therefore, being less judgmental over time and more compassionate towards others.
- Mindfulness enhances relationships: Studies suggests mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another. The relationship in itself becomes effortlessly because both parties understands that we all come in different flavors to be savored. It is understood that the relationship is not about changing the other party but instead share the experiences of each other.
- Mindfulness is good for parentsand parents-to-be: Studies suggest it may reduce pregnancy-related anxiety, stress, and depression in expectant parents. Parents who practice mindfulness report being happier with their parenting skills and their relationship with their kids, and their kids were found to have better social skills. In other words, their children will develop a secure attachment style.
- Mindfulness helps schools: There’s scientific evidence that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems and aggression among students, and improves their happiness levels and ability to pay attention. Teacherstrained in mindfulness also show lower blood pressure, less negative emotion and symptoms of depression, and greater compassion and empathy.
- Mindfulness helps health care professionalscope with stress, connect with their patients, and improve their general quality of life It also helps mental health professionals by reducing negative emotions and anxiety, and increasing their positive emotions and feelings of self-compassion towards their clients.
- Mindfulness helps prisons: Evidence suggests mindfulness reduces anger, hostility, and mood disturbances among prisoners by increasing their awareness of their thoughts and emotions, helping with their rehabilitation and reintegration. Thereby, reducing the numbers of returned prisoners.
- Mindfulness helps veterans: Studies suggest it can reduce the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of war.
- Mindfulness fights obesity: Practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, helps people lose weight, and helps them savor the food they do eat.
Cultivating techniques to achieve mindfulness:
While I find basic mediation to be the best method for me, there are moments when time does not allow it. But don’t sweat that. There are many more (meditative) ways you can achieve such a blissful state of mind that can be done anytime, anywhere and any moment of the day, throughout the day! How cool is that?
The goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alertness, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations coursing through the body without judgment. This forces the mind to refocus on the here and now.
|Basic mindfulness meditation – Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Such as the word love, peace, om, etc. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.|
|Body sensations – Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.|
|Sensory – Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.|
|Emotions – Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.”
Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
Mindfulness meditation builds upon concentration practices. Here’s how it works:
- Go with the flow. In mindfulness meditation, once you establish concentration, you observe the flow of inner thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judging them as good or bad.
- Pay attention. You also notice external sensations such as sounds, sights, and touch that make up your moment-to-moment experience. The challenge is not to latch onto a particular idea, emotion, or sensation, or to get caught in thinking about the past or the future. Instead you watch what comes and goes in your mind, and discover which mental habits produce a feeling of well-being or suffering.
- Stay with it. At times, this process may not seem relaxing at all, but over time it provides a key to greater happiness and self-awareness as you become comfortable with a wider and wider range of your experiences.
Learning to stay in the present
A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. You can choose any task or moment to practice informal mindfulness, whether you are eating, showering, walking, touching a partner, or playing with a child or grandchild. Attending to these points will help:
- Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body. Be aware of what you are feeling. The tingling sensation that courses through your body is the spirit of you awakening to its presence.
- Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully like a balloon.
- Now breathe out through your mouth
- Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation
- Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation
- Engage your senses fully without labeling what you see, hear and feel. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.
When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment. Paying attention to your breathing allows the mind to rest from thoughts.
Overtime and with deliberate practice, you will be able to become emotionally intelligent (which I will cover at a later date), physically fit and mentally free to be the magically you, you were designed to be.