When you are mindful, you are paying close attention to what is happening in the moment. You notice what’s happening inside your mind and your body. You are aware of what is going on around you. You might ask, “How is mindfulness helpful in my life?”
Mindfulness is about observing. Step back and view your life from a little distance, instead of having an emotional reaction. Do not judge what is happening. Your feelings are neither good nor bad; they just are.
By training your brain to be mindful, you are remodeling its physical structure. Mindfulness sounds a wake-up call to your brain, with the intent of stirring up the inner workings of all mental, emotional, and physical processes.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, though most religions teach some technique that helps shift thought toward an appreciation of the moment. If you would like to read an entertaining article on Buddhism, go to my other website and read this article: https://celebratingcats.com/read-about-the-dalai-lamas-cat
Thanks to research by professor emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, the practice of mindfulness meditation has come into mainstream medicine. Professor Kabat-Zinn is the founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Here are some benefits of mindfulness:
1. Improved Well-being
When you are mindful, you will find it easier to savor the pleasures of life as they come along. Mindfulness will help you become fully engaged in activities and you will find it easier to deal with adversity.
If you focus on the moment, you may be less likely to get caught up in worries about the future, or regrets about the past. You will find yourself less preoccupied with concerns about self-esteem. You will find it easier to form deep connections with others.
2. Improved Physical Health
With mindfulness, researchers have found that you can improve your health in many ways. It helps reduce stress, treats heart disease, lowers blood pressure, reduces chronic pain, improves sleep and helps digestion. What’s not to like in that list?
3. Improved Mental Health
Mindfulness is now used in the treatment of a number of problems. These include depression, substance abuse, eating or anxiety disorders, relationship conflicts, and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Here are some mindfulness techniques:
Basic Mindfulness Meditation: Sit quietly; focus on your natural breathing, or on a “mantra” of a word or two, silently repeated. Allow thoughts to come and go without judging. Keep returning to focus on your breath or your mantra.
Body Sensations: Notice any subtle body sensations, perhaps an itching or tingling. Let them pass. Do a head to toe check of your body and observe any sensations.
Sensory: Notice and name sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches. Observe them without judgment and let them go.
Emotions: If emotions are present, allow them but don’t judge them. Name them in a relaxed way. Accept their presence; don’t judge them; let them go.
Urge Surfing: Cope with any cravings and let them pass. Notice the way your body feels when you crave something. Adopt a certainty that the craving will subside.
You can learn to practice mindfulness meditation. You build this meditation through concentration practices. Here are some instructions:
Go With The Flow
Once you are concentrating, simply observe the flow of your inner thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. Do not judge them as good or bad.
Don’t let external sounds, sights, or touch take over. Don’t latch on to any of these, and don’t let yourself think of the past or the future. Instead, watch the progress of what goes through your mind. From what you see, you can discover which mental habits produce good feelings and which produce bad.
Stay With It
Realize that at first it may not seem relaxing. However, over time you will find it brings greater happiness and self-awareness as you become more comfortable with the process.
It’s Important To Practice Acceptance
It is important that you accept whatever thoughts arise in your awareness with each moment. You need to learn to be kind and forgiving toward yourself.
If your mind wanders into anything that interferes with the flow of the moment, notice where it has gone and redirect it to the present.
If you miss one session, just plan another one and start again.
When you accept your experience through meditation, it will be easier to accept whatever comes your way during the day.
Here is a basic meditation you can try. With this exercise, you can learn to stay in the present.
Basic Mindfulness Meditation
- Sit on a straight-backed chair, or sit cross-legged on the floor
- Focus on an aspect of your breathing. Breathe through your nose and let the air go downward to expand your lower belly. You can focus on your belly rising and falling. Fully expand your abdomen.
- As you inhale and exhale, notice your bodily sensations
- Recognize and consider each thought or sensation but do not judge as good or bad.
- When your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
The more you practice, the more you will notice the effect. It takes most people at least 20 minutes for the mind to begin to settle. Therefore, start with 20 minutes. Once you have begun to see progress, you can lengthen your time.
It is easy to see why mindfulness focuses on the breath, as your breathing is one of the first things that is affected when you are chronically stressed. When stressed, your breathing is rapid and shallow. If you fall into this pattern often, your chronic stress can affect your mental and physical health.
One of the best ways to get access and release stress is through your breathing. It will help return your system to a relaxed state where you can experience optimal health.
Take a breath right now, and notice what you do. Do you breathe into your chest or into your belly? If just your chest is expanding, you are breathing at a shallow level. You need to breathe deeply into your belly.
Try it now. While breathing in, expand the diaphragm and the belly. When breathing out, allow your belly to return to its normal position. We were born to breathe this way. Watch a baby breathing, and you can see the belly rise and fall.
If you are stressed, deep, slow breathing allows you to move out of the chronic stress response and back into a state of balance. Balance is what will help you create optimum health.
If the nervous system is in balance, it is calm and regulated in the face of stress. You cannot avoid stress — it is something we all experience. However, if you shift your mindset to a different way of experiencing stress, you can bring your nervous system back in balance. Breathe is an ancient tool that has only recently been proven to be an incredible healing help for accessing the automatic stress response that happens in our autonomic nervous system.
Because you cannot control this part of your nervous system, it can create all sorts of problems, such as high blood pressure, anxiety, sweaty palms, panic responses, pain and ill health.
The best way to create a new habit of breathing is to tie it to a habit you presently have. Use deep breathing when going about your daily life, during meetings or at the computer, perhaps. You can even practice during a phone call.
Science and research indicate that deep breathing and mindfulness practice can have other attributes. It can help decrease inflammation and improve immune system regulation. It will also help curb cravings.
Studies have shown that frequent mindfulness practice can create the following results:
- Lowered cortisol levels (stress hormone)
- An increase in hormone levels that make us feel good
- Better immune functioning
- Less cardiovascular risk factors (blood pressure lowered)
- Less inflammation
- Optimization of the enzyme telomerase, which slows aging.
Here are some basic “rules” to use in starting out with mindfulness practice:
1) Set aside time. You need no special equipment, just time and space.
2) Observe the present moment as it is. Pay attention to the present moment. Do not judge; just observe.
3) Let your judgments pass. If these arise during practice, observe and let them go.
4) Return to observing the present moment. Mindfulness is the practice of returning over and over to the present moment.
5) Don’t judge yourself. If thoughts creep in, just practice recognizing that your mind has wandered off; bring it back to the present.
That’s all there is to it. Sounds easy, right? It is harder than you might think, but with practice, you can be successful.
It is up to us to take control of our emotional responses to a difficult situation. If we are overwhelmed with stress, we can acknowledge the feeling and then remove ourselves from the situation. With time, we can establish a regular meditation practice, which may prove to be an important solution that improves our quality of life.
I used four major references for this post. Here are links to the articles: