by Maria Lebron, January 2021
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means being fully present and aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness means not having judgments as to whether something is right or wrong and not being reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Staying present in the moment means tuning into what is happening in the present moment without bringing in the past or imaging the future.
Although mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation, a more secular practice came into being in 1979 through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Since then, thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. When you train your mind to be mindful, you’re reworking the physical structure of your brain.
The primary goal of mindfulness is simply to pay attention to the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness helps put some space between ourselves and our automatic reactions. Our minds can stray from our present experience into obsessive thoughts or anxiety over the future. Practicing mindfulness can help direct the attention away from this kind of thinking and engage with the world around you.
Mindfulness can be experienced through meditations, body scans, or mindful moment practices like taking the time to pause, breathe, suspend judgment, be curious, and approach our experience with warmth and kindness to ourselves and others.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is something we already have the capacity to do and doesn’t require us to change who we are. It simply means enhancing those innate qualities that we normally don’t focus on. Being mindful can help to reduce depression, anxiety, and pain; provide us with insight and awareness into everything we do; and increase our attention to others.
Mindfulness can be a way to identify and manage difficult emotions without self-criticism and judgment. Practicing mindfulness can help you accept yourself more, live in the moment, and find more joy from simple pleasures.
How Do I Practice Mindfulness?
A person’s experience can be heavily influenced by their emotional state. Fears and anxieties about the past and the future can make it difficult to fully appreciate the present. The key to being mindful is to pay attention to what you’re doing in the following ways:
— Observe the present moment as it is without judgment. When you notice judgments arise, take note of them and let them pass.
— Return again and again to the present moment when your minds wanders or when you get carried away in thought.
— Don’t judge yourself for any thoughts which come up, just be curious and gently bring yourself back to the present moment.
More structured mindfulness exercises can consist of the following:
— Meditations such as deep breathing where you focus on the breath passing in and out of your body and notice any sensations, such as sounds, temperature, and smells. If any thoughts come in, simply observe them and go back to focusing on the breathing and sensations.
— Body scans: lie on your back with your legs extended, arms at your sides, and palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and carefully on each part of your body, either starting at the feet upwards or head downwards. Note without judgment any sensations, emotions, or thoughts which come up when you focus on each part of your body.
Practicing mindfulness can seem very simple but it can actually be hard initially to train your mind and body. Results can be achieved by continuing to do the practice without judgments or expectations. The more you practice, over time mindfulness can become effortless.