The term “mindfulness” is probably a term that you’re familiar with or have heard of before. It seems to be a buzz word these days as more and more people are seeking ways to reduce their stress and become more present in their lives.
One big reason why mindfulness is such a popular topic of discussion in the field of health is the increasing amount of research demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness on emotional, physical and mental health.
Some of these benefits include: decreased stress and anxiety, improved mood, increased compassion for the self and for others, and improved immune functioning, to name a few. Instead of worrying about the past or stressing over the future, mindfulness focuses on connecting with the present moment. When we’re less consumed with worries about mistakes we made in the past or fears about what will happen in the future, we create more space to be present, aware, and connected.
Practicing mindfulness helps to change the way we react to difficult situations so that we can respond more effectively.
The key with being able to experience these benefits is to establish a consistent mindfulness practice. To start, let’s begin with defining what mindfulness is. To keep it simple, mindfulness, which originally stems from Zen Buddhism, means being in the present moment with your full attention and awareness. It also incorporates the concepts of non-judgment and acceptance.
Starting a mindfulness practice is all about finding what makes sense for you. There are generally two different types of practices, formal and informal.
Formal mindfulness exercises encompass guided meditations, yoga, grounding exercises, etc. whereas informal mindfulness exercises include applying a mindfulness perspective to any typical day to day task you already do, such as washing the dishes, taking a shower or making coffee. Whatever type of practice you choose, the key is to choose an activity that allows you to focus on connecting to the present moment with your full attention and awareness.
Let’s talk about what mindfulness isn’t. Mindfulness is not about making your mind blank. It’s normal for our minds to wander when we practice mindfulness, that’s what our minds do! In practicing mindfulness, the goal is to notice when your mind has wandered and then to bring your awareness back to the practice. It's all about approaching the practice from a non-judgmental perspective as an observer of your own experience.
Mindfulness focuses less on reducing stress in the moment and more on how to create a habit of increased awareness, connection and non-judgment so that you can learn how to manage stress and anxiety more effectively. Lastly, mindfulness is not about being perfect or getting rid of your anxiety.
The easiest way to make mindfulness a habit is to choose a type of practice that you enjoy, start slow, and get into a routine. Start with a 3 minute meditation and work your way up as you begin to strengthen those muscles. Choose a consistent time of day that works best for you to practice, whether it’s first thing in the morning, during lunch, or right before bed.
Most importantly, allow yourself to struggle, especially at the beginning. Just like any new skill you learn, the more you practice, the easier it gets. There’s no better time than the present to begin your mindfulness journey and learn how to stop doing and start being.
- Happiness: essential mindfulness practices
- Nhất Hạnh - Parallax Press – 2009
- The headspace guide to meditation and mindfulness: how mindfulness can change your life in ten minutes a day
- Andy Puddicombe - St. Martins Griffin - 2012