by Bulbul Beri

Mindfulness has been a buzz word for the last decade or so, with health practitioners, psychologists and researchers advocating the many benefits of being more mindful. But what really is mindfulness, and why should you care?

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment. Accepting it as it is and allowing your thoughts and feelings to come and go without judgement.

Mindfulness is not about controlling thoughts and feelings but rather about letting them go.

Why be mindful?

These days, many of us are constantly on the go, racing the clock and battling a never-ending todo list, trying to juggle, work, family, friends, finances, home, etc. Being busy all the time means we don’t often take time to stop and smell the roses but rather just get through each day as quickly as we can.

It is easy for our minds to dwell on past hurts and future worries, especially during periods of emotional vulnerability. Without a connection to the present, our minds can get overwhelmed by stress. We can use mindfulness to connect us back to the present and reduce the amount of time spent worrying about the future or feeling bad about the past.

Being in the moment helps you acknowledge, accept and cope with painful or intrusive thoughts, feelings and sensations. When you are fully present, you can appreciate the specialness of now and savour the joys of life as they happen.

Benefits of Mindfulness

There have been many studies over the past few decades on the benefits of mindfulness and how it can alleviate the symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and elevate overall wellbeing.

Psychotherapists, are now using it as part of their toolbox to help people gain perspective on irrational and negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs about themselves. (1) And many big companies including Google and Bank of America also offer mindfulness training to their employees. (2) There are numerous evidence-based studies showing that mindfulness can help:

Improve relationships

When you are present with another, giving them your undivided attention without being distracted or judgemental you are better able to form a deeper connection. Being more mindful helps you to be more in tune with your own and others emotions and respond accordingly rather than react and attack. It also helps to shift unconscious behaviours that affect your relationships and increases your sense of appreciation and gratitude for the relationship. (3)

Reduce stress, anxiety and depression

There is much scientific evidence to show that being mindful and focusing on the now, helps keep negative and intrusive thoughts at bay, which means you are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past. Many psychotherapists are now using mindfulness-based therapies such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MCBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) to help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. (2)

Improve focus, concentration and memory

Practising mindfulness helps you to focus on what is in front of you and suppress outside distractions. Studies have shown that students with ADHD became calmer and more focused when they learned a simple breathing practice. (5) Other studies have shown that even brief meditation impacts attention even in beginners. (6)

Improve physical health

As well as our mental and emotional health, scientists have discovered that mindfulness can help improve physical health. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily life has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties. (7)

Now you know the why, how do you do it?

How can we practice mindfulness?

There are different ways to practice mindfulness:

Mindfulness can be practised through regular meditation practice. This practice invites you to be quiet, breathe and observe your thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Mindfulness can also be practised informally by doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. Whether it is washing dishes, vacuuming, walking your dog, going to the gym or having a conversation with a loved one, give your full attention to what you are doing, moment by moment.

Mindfulness can be practised through yoga, by letting your thoughts come and go without judgement during your practice and gently bringing your attention back to your breath.

Mindfulness can be practised through body awareness by either :

body scanning – sitting or lying down, breathing slowly and deliberately drawing your attention to specific areas of your body sorting at your toes and moving mentally through all the different areas of your body to the crown of your head.

sensory awareness – pause and pay attention to what you can see, hear, touch, taste, smell and feel?

Mindfulness practice is simple, powerful, takes just a few minutes and can be done almost anywhere. Practising mindfulness can give you the tools you need to stay in the present, remain focused and reduce distracting stressors and negative thoughts. Practising mindfulness helps you improve overall well-being by fully engaging in whatever you are doing, and having a greater capacity to deal with adverse events. With practice, you can grow and strengthen your ‘mindful muscle’, for a greater sense of wellbeing, better relationships, reduced stress, improved focus and better psychological and physical health.

References:

(1) Cho, J (2016) Retrieved Mar 12, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeenacho/2016/07/14/10-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-mindfulness-and-meditation/?sh=4007605363ce

(2) Sane Resource (2020) Retrieved Mar 12, 2021, from https://www.sane.org/information-stories/facts-and-guides/mindfulness

(3) Sanger, G (2020) Retrieved Mar 12, 2021, from https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-to-use-mindfulness-to-strengthen-your-relationships/

(4)  Powell, A (2018) Retrieved Mar 12, 2021, from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-researchers-study-how-mindfulness-may-change-the-brain-in-depressed-patients/

(5) Bayes-Fleming, N (2018) Retrieved Mar 12, 2021, from https://www.mindful.org/three-ways-meditation-boosts-your-focus/

(6) Norris, C  J, Creem, D, Hendler, R and Kober, H (2018) Retrieved Mar 12, 2021, from  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088366/

(7) Harvard Health (2019) Retrieved Mar 12, 2021, from https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm