We live in a busy and fast-paced world. Our days are packed with so many activities, expectations, and demands that it is easy to rush through life and lose your connection to the present moment.
Do you live life in the fast lane and need a respite from stress and anxiety? Do you have a wandering mind and find it difficult to focus on the here and now?
If this sounds like you, then read on. This article will share what mindfulness is, its benefits for our physical and mental health, and simple tips to be more mindful.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of awareness and acceptance of one’s thoughts and emotions in a gentle, non-judgmental way. This means intentionally observing one’s thoughts and feelings, without avoidance and aversion, and without labeling the thoughts and feelings as good or bad, right or wrong. Mindfulness is about being in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
Although mindfulness traces its roots in Buddhism, the practice of contemporary mindfulness is secular, which explains its growing appeal. The emergence of mindfulness in the late 1970s is attributed to Jon Kabat-Zinn. Widely recognized as the father of secular mindfulness, he pioneered the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979 to help people cope with chronic pain, stress, and anxiety.
Today, mindfulness courses and programs can be found in the health and wellness community, schools, sports teams, prisons, companies, and even the military. With increasing popularity and acceptance, mindfulness has entered mainstream medicine in the West and is integrated into clinical approaches such as psychological therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
Benefits of mindfulness
Some may pooh-pooh the idea of mindfulness as a new age, hippie movement, perhaps even shrouded in eastern mysticism. While there are experts who are still split about the benefits of mindfulness (Kabat-Zinn himself acknowledges that more scientific studies are needed on the impacts of mindfulness), a growing body of research points to positive changes in one’s mental and physical health and overall well-being through practicing mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness can
- Relieve stress and anxiety
- Improve sense of focus, attention, and memory
- Promote self-reflection and empathy
- Help in the treatment of depression
- Increase happiness
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Reduce chronic pain
- Enhance the quality of sleep
- Alleviate gastrointestinal problems
It is important to note that mindfulness is not a cure-all; your physical and mental health problems will not magically go away by practicing mindfulness. You should seek medical attention for your symptoms and ailments, especially if they persist.
How to be more mindful
By now, are you curious about how to practice mindfulness in your daily life but have no idea where to begin?
You can engage in mindfulness exercises at the comfort of your home, although you can also consider signing up for instructor-led classes if you are new to mindfulness and need more support. There is also an array of mindfulness apps such as Headspace and Insight Timer that you can download to guide you along on your mindfulness journey.
Here’s an acronym – STOP – to remember to incorporate a simple mindfulness exercise in your daily life.
Stop – Slow down and hit the pause button from what you are doing.
Take a breath – Sit down in a quiet place, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Feel the rhythm of each breath as it moves through your nostrils, lungs, and belly.
Observe – Acknowledge what is happening in your day, the emotions and inner thoughts running through your mind, and bodily sensations without interpretation or judgment.
Proceed – After having tuned in with your body and mind, continue with your day and experience and accept each moment for what it is.
There are also more structured mindfulness exercises such as body scan meditation, sitting meditation, and walking meditation. The key is to choose what works best for you based on your preference and lifestyle. At first, mindfulness exercises may not come naturally to you, but they will become more effortless with time as you make mindfulness part of your daily routine. Consistency and discipline are crucial for better outcomes.