Feeling happier, being more productive, and improving self-esteem are totally possible with mindfulness. In this article, we break down what it means to practice mindfulness, how it can benefit your well being, and the easy ways you can gradually integrate it into your life.
Table of contents
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is all about taking things slowly and being aware of your surroundings and emotions, rather than letting yourself get swept away by the tasks of the day. It’s easy to feel like time is slipping through your fingers when you’re doing too many things at once. How often have you eaten breakfast while also catching up on the news and responding to messages only to find that you can barely remember what you’ve even done? In fact, dividing your attention in such a way is the exact opposite of being mindful.
The aim of being mindful is to anchor yourself to the present moment – to perceive your environment and yourself in an introspective manner. Incorporating this practice into your life can bring a sense of inner peace and quiet the judgemental voice in your mind.
While there is no single definition of “mindfulness,” it’s best known as a state of self awareness that results from intentionally paying attention to what you’re doing, according to biologist Jon Kabat Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
Instead of letting your thoughts stray, being mindful encourages you to direct your attention to what is happening right around you. That way you are fully aware of your environment and the way it affects you, so you can act intentionally instead of simply reacting.
Being mindful is not about changing your situation but accepting it. It encourages you to simply perceive and be aware of all the sensations and moments of everyday life.
Awareness and freedom of choice vs. inner chaos and auto-pilot
Being mindful is the opposite of allowing your mind to run on auto-pilot. It creates a distance between you and your thoughts, so that they have less control over the way you behave.
By reacting mindfully rather than by habit or instinct, you can create a moment of awareness between the stimulus and your reaction. This can give you the ability to act consciously rather than instinctively, and improve your relationship with yourself and your loved ones.
When tradition and science meet
Though you may have just learned about being mindful, the concept is by no means a new one. It’s an essential element of the Satipatthana Sutta, Buddha’s discourse on the establishment of mindfulness and one of the building blocks of the spiritual practice he founded many centuries ago.
In traditional Chinese medicine, mindfulness practices have always been an integral part of the treatment of certain conditions. However, it took several centuries for Western medicine and psychology to learn from the knowledge and experiences of these Eastern traditions.
Western mindfulness research began in the early 20th century thanks to the interest of psychoanalysts, but it was not studied scientifically until the late 1970s.
Because clinical studies have demonstrated the many benefits of meditation and increased mindfulness, some health insurance plans may help cover the cost of meditation sessions, MBSR classes, a mindfulness app, and other offerings that could lead you down the path to serenity and satisfaction.
Concentration vs. mindfulness: What’s the difference?
During a moment of focus, all thoughts are directed at one thing and everything else is overshadowed. Conversely, being mindful is a different form of awareness that gives you the ability to observe all your surroundings at once.
When you are fully focused, you are working on an issue or a task and dealing with it in a productive way, forgetting everything else around you. Being mindful is a more flexible level of attention that allows for other sensations as well, and is not just about where your thoughts are going, but also about your relationship to them and the environment you’re in.
7 Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
Mindfulness can be used to strengthen productivity, maintain focus, and prevent thoughts and emotions from becoming overwhelming. The benefits of practicing mindfulness are now widely recognized in psychology.
Benefit 1: Mindfulness can make stress easier to manage.
Those who practice mindfulness are often better able to anchor themselves in the present and avoid becoming overwhelmed by their thoughts. Studies show that mindfulness techniques can improve mental health and resilience. Even the physical symptoms of stress are likely to decrease by regularly being mindful.
Benefit 2: Mindfulness training can improve your focus and performance.
Working for a minute, quickly going on Instagram, thinking about getting a coffee – if this carousel of thoughts is familiar, you may benefit from mindfulness. It can improve your concentration by increasing your attention span, making you less likely to become easily distracted and giving you back control of your mind.
Benefit 3: Mindfulness exercises can make you more empathetic.
Mindfulness training can change your perceptions. Instead of reacting blindly to another person’s behavior or making snap judgments, it can enable you to see what’s really causing the problem and give you the tools to deal with it in a mature way. It might also make you a better listener in general, whether there’s a problem or not!
Benefit 4: Mindfulness can improve your personal relationships.
When you are more empathetic and able to react less spontaneously, you will become automatically more tolerant and understanding.
Benefit 5: Mindfulness can boost your immune system.
According to researchers at Cleveland University, practicing mindfulness meditation on a daily basis can strengthen the immune system. Patients who regularly practiced mindfulness-based meditations developed less inflammation than those who did not.
Benefit 6: Mindfulness can help with sleep disorders.
Though it hasn’t been scientifically proven, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that regular mindfulness exercises can also lead to better sleep.
Benefit 7: Mindfulness can positively influence brain function
Various studies and meta-analyses have observed an increase in gray matter in subjects who regularly performed mindfulness exercises or took special MSR courses. Gray matter is part of the central nervous system that’s involved in the transmission of stimuli, among other things.
Being Mindful: 7 Small Exercises to Do on a Daily Basis
Practicing mindfulness just once is not enough to reap the benefits. According to Jon Kabat Zinn, incorporating daily exercises is the best way to get the most out of it.
The most important thing to remember as you begin your practice of mindfulness is to avoid becoming frustrated. It’s the journey that matters, not the destination. You are practicing mindfulness without even realizing every time you take a step back to stop and smell the flowers. Take time to notice the efforts that you make, even if they don’t feel like much of an effort to you.
Exercise 1: Be present for every moment.
Make an extra effort to focus on the small moments of everyday life and turn your routine tasks into a mindfulness meditation – no need to do anything extra! If you’re making coffee, smell it, touch it, and make every movement with complete awareness. Experience the sensations and feelings to their fullest and see if it fills you with joy. It probably will.
Exercise 2: Connect to the present moment.
If you’re overwhelmed by your feelings and your thoughts are spinning out of control, stop and refocus your attention on the present. To do this, begin by simply touching something and observing the way it feels against your skin.
Then, close your eyes and take several deep breaths. This little mindfulness meditation won’t solve your problems forever, but it may help you avoid rehashing or dramatizing the same little stresses over and over in the future.
Exercise 3: Be aware of the little things.
This form of mindfulness meditation is also designed to bring you back into the present.
Instead of thinking about the tasks ahead of you, become aware of your surroundings. The sky, the birds, the smells and sounds around you. Give yourself a moment to enjoy and savor these little things that make life so special.
Exercise 4: Activate all your senses.
This method is a mini-complement to the third exercise. To better perceive the little things and their effects on you, activate all your senses. Ask yourself what the air smells and feels like. Then do the same with all the other things that surround you.
Out in nature is undoubtedly one of the best places to do an exercise like this. Being in an oxygen-rich environment by going on a nature walk may also be enough to give your immune system a little boost and your mind a well-deserved break.
Exercise 5: Meditate regularly.
Daily meditation may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be a whole thing. You don’t need to light up incense and sit in a lotus position to take advantage of this practice. Just take a moment when you can (even if it’s just 5 minutes!), find a comfortable position, and focus on your breath and body without letting your mind stray. Let your thoughts come and go without trying to force them to stop. Just sit back and let them wash over you without judgment. Use the most basic meditation techniques to get yourself started.
Because yoga combines breathing, movement, and awareness, it can be a great addition to your mindfulness practice. On the one hand, slow breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, a part of the central nervous system that’s responsible for recovery. On the other hand, focusing on the movements helps you to anchor yourself in the present moment. There are many different types of yoga practices, so be sure to find a style that works best for you. Need help getting started? We have 9 basic poses to give you an idea.
Exercise 7: Start a 30-day mindfulness challenge.
It can be difficult to change your habits and adopt ones that benefit your overall health. Start small and try to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine a little bit every day. Doing this for just one month is enough to turn it into a regular part of your life.
Mini-Guide: Mindfulness exercises
Use this mini-guide to help you practice mindfulness on a daily basis.
Mindfulness exercises for everyday life
Breathing is a reflex – an unconscious mechanism. Before beginning to learn complex breathing techniques, it’s important to become more mindful of the way you breathe already.
Breathe in and out.
Focus on your breathing.
Do you breathe with your nose, your mouth, or both?
How long is the inhalation? How long is the exhale?
Place one hand on your heart and the other hand on your stomach.
Try to direct your breathing to these two places.
Whether you like to eat on the go or listen to podcasts while you’re munching, there are easy ways to turn your eating experience into a mindful one. To begin, we recommend eliminating all distractions (so yes, you might want to put the phone away).
Focus on how you eat.
Chew slowly and take your time.
Take a break by setting your cutlery on the table.
Finish each bite before taking another.
Eat with all your senses: see the colors, smell the aromas, notice the textures and flavors of your meal. What do you hear when you bite?
Was it good?
Do you feel full?
How do you feel after this meal? Light and full of energy or heavy and bloated? Full or still hungry?
No matter where you are, whether that’s in transit or a waiting room, try to experience the situation with all your senses and without distraction.
What do you see? Look around and make a mental note of your surroundings.
What do you hear? Listen to the different sounds. How do you perceive them? Are they loud or soft?
What do you feel? Take note of both how you feel inside and out. Ask yourself what kind of emotional impact the situation is having on you, as well as how it’s making you feel physically. Is the air hot or cold and how does it feel on your skin? How does the air make you feel?
What do you taste in your mouth right now?
What do you smell?
Mindfulness: Our conclusion
Mindfulness has roots in Buddhism and has since gained recognition in the West thanks to the pioneering work of Jon Kabat Zinn
Mindfulness can bring more calm and joy into your life, increase your sense of well being while also improving the quality of your relationships with others.
Studies show that practicing mindfulness can positively impact various areas of life, including stress reduction and improved mental health.
To best integrate mindfulness into your life, try to practice it every day through things like meditation or yoga. Even a few minutes of daily mindfulness exercises will be beneficial in the long-term.
Mastering mindfulness may take your entire life. It’s important to remember that the process is what counts, not the destination.
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