Mindfulness is an ancient practice that is becoming increasingly popular. From mindfulness retreats to virtual mindfulness classes, more and more people are seeking peace through the practice of mindfulness. To the uninitiated, mindfulness may sound like another meaningless self-care buzzword. However, there are many proven benefits of mindfulness that you can experience for yourself.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being conscious in the moment. While it may sound simple, it is a challenge for many people to not be distracted by notions of the past or future. Mindfulness involves focusing on the present and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and surroundings. You can practice mindfulness during meditation, yoga, or everyday activities like brushing your teeth.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness has been shown to help reduce symptoms of depression and may even prevent them from recurring in the future. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of mental health therapy that combines cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). MBCT integrates activities such as meditation with mindfulness techniques to help people cope with depression.
Alleviates Stress and Anxiety
Chronic stress affects many individuals and can lead to depression and anxiety. Mindfulness can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety and stress by allowing the practitioner to gain a more balanced perspective on the events occurring in the present moment. Research has shown that mindfulness intervention is an easy and effective method to treat chronic stress and thus reduce anxiety and depression.
Helps Emotional Regulation
Emotional regulation is crucial for mental health. Mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder have been linked to an inability to regulate emotions. Mindfulness practice teaches you to identify and address thoughts and feelings that you would normally ignore. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) combines elements of mindfulness with CBT and emotional regulation training. As you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions, you can regulate them more effectively.
Improves Cognitive Performance
Mindfulness can improve your memory and cognitive performance. Studies have shown that mindfulness practice can improve memory and reduce negative rumination. The practice of mindfulness can also improve focus and concentration because you are essentially training your brain to disregard distractions and pay attention to the things that matter. Hence, mindfulness can help you to think clearly and overcome brain fog.
Mindfulness can increase feelings of compassion towards yourself and others by allowing you to see situations from different perspectives. When you have more empathy towards others, you can improve relationships and build stronger social bonds. At the same time, you will become more accepting of your own limitations. This is helpful in instances where you feel overwhelmed by the demands of everyday life.
How to Start Being Mindful
There are many ways to start being more mindful. Some people find it useful to download a mindfulness and meditation app while others prefer to attend a guided mindfulness class. You can also start to practice mindfulness on your own. However, be sure not to pressure yourself as this is contrary to the purpose of mindfulness. Remember that you do not have to ‘master’ anything to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness.
Here are three basic mindfulness exercises to start you on your mindfulness journey.
Focus on the Breath
Breathing exercises are excellent ways to tune in to the state of your body and mind. Start by sitting comfortably. Closing your eyes can allow you to focus better. Inhale deeply through your nose for four seconds and let your lungs fill up. Hold this breath for seven seconds. Slowly exhale through your mouth for eight seconds, paying attention to the sound and movement of the air as it passes your lips. If you are unable to maintain one breath over this span of time, start with shorter intervals and work up to it.
Body Scan Meditation
Body scanning is a good way to bring the focus of your mind back to your physical body. Typically, this meditation is performed lying down, but you can also do it while sitting or standing. Place your palms open upwards. Close your eyes and relax your body. Focus your attention on your toes and observe how they feel. Are they tense? Tingling? Numb? Move gradually from one part of the body to the next, ascending from toe to head. Be aware—but unjudgmental—of any sensations or thoughts that arise.
Find a quiet location where you can wander without being disturbed. Be mindful of every footstep and the overall experience of walking. Pay attention to how your bare feet feel or if the ground is hard or soft on your shoes. Turn your mind to your surroundings and observe what you can hear, see, or smell. What are the sensations on your skin? As you move, take note of how the motion makes you feel. Do movement and balance come easily? Spend five to ten minutes walking in quiet meditation.
Anyone can start being mindful by incorporating small snippets of mindfulness practice into their day. As you become more practiced and conscious of your presence of mind, you can incorporate mindfulness into your daily life in different ways. This could include practicing active listening at work or moving with deliberation while you exercise.