What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations. It involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. Practicing mindfulness exercises can help you direct your attention away from this kind of thinking and engage with the world around you. It involves a gentle acceptance of whatever comes into your awareness in the moment. It’s not so much about reaching an end goal, but about exploring your experience and expanding your awareness of your own inner world – the things that drive you, motivate you, get in your way, trip you up, keep you stuck.
By focusing your attention on the present moment, mindfulness counteracts rumination and worrying. Worrying about the future and ruminating about the past are generally maladaptive thinking processes. Of course, it is important to learn from our past and plan for the future; however, when we spend too much time outside of the present moment, we can get depressed and anxious. In such cases, mindfulness can be an important tool for helping us to better focus on the present moment. Finding the right balance is key.
Mindfulness works through a number of ways. It encourages us to open up and accept our emotions. As a result we are better able to identify, experience, and process our emotions. Mindfulness also encourages us to see things from different perspectives.
Mindfulness in Practice
There is no big secret behind mindfulness practices. Any activity can become mindful by focusing on the experience of the present moment. For example, you can either mindlessly gobble down your meal or take a little bit of time and practice mindful eating by looking at the food, smelling the food, noticing the different flavors and the texture of the food while slowly eating it. Not surprisingly, it is much more enjoyable and satisfying when you eat mindfully than when you eat mindlessly. Interestingly, you will also notice that you will consume less when you start eating mindfully.
There are many training practices that include mindfulness, such as tai chi, yoga and breath control. There are different styles for each of these activities, so it is worthwhile to experiment with different practices until you find one that suits you. As you become more mindful, you will also notice that you will become more centered, happier, and less depressed and this in turn has a direct positive effect on your anxiety.
It’s so easy to fall into habitual ways of thinking, feeling and doing. Mindfulness slows the process down, and brings a sense of meaningfulness to even the most mundane, everyday tasks. It allows us to engage the whole of our senses and experience moments of our day with a full aliveness and presence, without the distractions that might tend to dilute our experiences.
The opportunities for mindfulness are in our hands every day – many times a day. Engaging with the things we do regularly – showering, washing the dishes, taking a walk, talking with friends – but being with them fully, with every sense switched on, and without drifting into the future or the past. This is easier said than done, but it’s a powerful way to strengthen our mind, body and spirit.
If you are new to mindfulness, it’s important to be patient and kind with yourself. If your mind is full and a seasoned wanderer, it might push hard at first against any attempt to slow it down or bring it to the present. Start where you are, and with consistency and regular practice, you’ll finish where you want to be.
How often should I practice mindfulness?
It depends on what kind of mindfulness exercise you plan to do.
Simple mindfulness exercises can be practiced anywhere and anytime. Research indicates that engaging your senses outdoors is especially beneficial.
For more structured mindfulness exercises, such as body scan meditation or sitting meditation, you'll need to set aside time when you can be in a quiet place without distractions or interruptions. You might choose to practice this type of exercise early in the morning before you begin your daily routine.
Aim to practice mindfulness every day for about six months. Over time, you might find that mindfulness becomes effortless. Think of it as a commitment to reconnecting with and nurturing yourself.
How to be Mindful Right Now
Focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Slowly inhale and exhale through your nose. Bring your breath deep into the lungs, using your diaphragm. Feel your stomach slowly rise and fall, notice the sensation as it enters your nose and travels down into your lungs, follow the breath as it journeys in and out of your body. When your mind wanders, simply return your attention to the breath. Focus on the present moment: the here and now. Notice this very moment; it feels good to be alive, right now.
If you don't immediately feel a complete release of anxiety, remember: most of the benefits of mindfulness require consistent practice. While some people notice changes in their anxiety level even after one single yoga class, most benefits require several weeks, months, and even years to create a noticeable change. And, like any skill, you will need to continue to practice mindfulness after you start to maintain the improvements.
Being mindful means being aware of your thoughts, emotions, and how you're feeling both physically and mentally. Mindfulness is a form of meditation with an important aspect to it—acceptance. It means being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Remember there is no “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in any moment.
By being more mindful and aware of your thoughts and feelings, you may be able to teach yourself to live in the moment and enjoy life as it happens.