What Is Mindfulness (And Why It Matters?)
Mindfulness. You may have heard it mentioned in recent years, along with other popularised words in the world of well-being. So, what exactly is it? And why is it so important?
You may have heard it mentioned in recent years, along with other popularised words in the world of well-being. Words such as asana, chakra, meditation and even mindfulness meditation. You may be right in guessing that it has something to do with the mind, yet don't know much beyond this.
A brief history
Mindfulness has been around for a long time.
Nowadays, it is most prevalently associated with the Buddhist faith. Many mindfulness techniques have been refined within Buddhism over the centuries. Yet, its origins as a widespread practice lie in the very birthplace of meditation in ancient India. Here, mystics would experiment with their innermost thoughts and emotions. They would strive to gain a better understanding of their minds and how it could be harnessed. Strengthening the mind-body connection was an essential task on the road to enlightenment. Many techniques from millennia ago are still used to this day.
Since the creation of meditation, mindfulness has been an important component. Originally known as 'Smriti' in Sanskrit, mindfulness has developed over time, although the core principles remain the same. Recently, mindfulness has regained popularity. This is largely due to a societal shift towards accepting the importance of mental health and well-being.
The definition of mindfulness
Mindfulness is essentially a state of active, open attention to the present. It can be thought of as being fully aware of the moment. This includes how you're feeling, what's going on around you and what thoughts are passing through your mind. It's a mental state, achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations experienced at any given time.
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. Instead, you simply observe them with an open mind. It means making time to sit down with yourself and learn how to focus on what you’re doing at that moment. It’s also about accepting things as they are, instead of dwelling on them or trying to change them.
You notice what’s going on inside you and around you and are aware of it as it happens, instead of letting your mind wander off into the void. By noticing your emotions when they arise, you can learn how to recognise that they will eventually pass. Mindfulness is essentially a heightened awareness of your entire being in a safe and controlled environment.
The benefits of mindfulness
Practising mindfulness brings with it many benefits. There is a reason that it has been so prevalent in spiritual communities for so long. Not only does it make you more attuned to your own needs, but also more aware of what's going on around you. Mindfulness helps you to become more aware of your breath, body and thoughts.
Moreover, practising mindfulness benefits both mental and physical health. Particularly with mental clarity, anxiety management and emotional stability. This explains why it's become so popular in recent years. It allows you to experience some of the following benefits.
Taking control of your thoughts
Mindfulness helps people to understand their relationship with their thoughts and feelings. This way, instead of becoming overwhelmed by them, people are better able to manage them. Focusing on only the thought itself negates the unnecessary baggage that usually follows.
The thoughts that we experience aren't usually harmful by themselves. But, the context in which we place them and the worry that we assign to them is what cause us harm. Mindfulness strips away the fear and leaves us with only the thought itself. It filters away the worry and anxiety from the overthinking we tend to do.
We become so used to wondrous things that we repeat everyday that they often become trivial to us. They can even become merely mechanical. Mindfulness can restore the wonder within even small actions and intricate moments. The little things that we forgot to notice will contain new meaning and perspective.
For example, if you're eating lunch mindfully, you might notice how the food looks on your plate. Or maybe how it feels when it touches your tongue. You may even pick up on the smell of it instead of focusing on its taste. You'll suddenly even notice the joy of the company you're in and feel glad to be present. By noticing these things instead of letting them pass by unnoticed, mindfulness can help to instil an appreciation for the things that make life worth living that we often take for granted.
Manage stress in a better way
Mindfulness can help reduce depression, anger, fear and other negative emotions. It's an important tool for emotional regulation, stress management and self-care. It can help you to become more aware of how your feelings impact your mental state. This will help you respond more effectively in the moment instead of reacting out of habit.
Learning to acknowledge negative emotions without judgment or avoidance helps them pass quicker. It doesn't mean that you never experience stress or negative emotions. It means that when you do feel stressed or angry, you'll have more tools to deal with those feelings in healthy ways. Living in the moment means that you can appreciate the things around you and focus on what matters to you.
When you practice mindfulness, you can carry it with you into every moment of your life. You can learn to respond to stress triggers in a calmer, more intentional way. Living in the moment means that you can appreciate the things around you and focus on what matters to you.
Regularly practising mindfulness can improve your health in various ways. First, it can help to reduce blood pressure and stress levels over time. Especially when done regularly and when combined with meditation.
Second, it can assist people with long-term pain manage their symptoms more effectively. It can help to learn to focus on other things besides feeling prolonged discomfort every day.
Third, practicing mindfulness can help you sleep better. This is because it reduces the amount of stress hormones in your body. It helps to calm down your nervous system so that it doesn’t feel like there’s a need to stay awake all night worrying.
How do I get started with mindfulness?
Mindfulness is at its simplest a state of increased awareness.
It can be practiced anywhere, at virtually any time and is is a great way to start or end your day. It can be something you do while taking a shower or brushing your teeth. While on your way to work, eating with others or when you're waiting for an appointment.
It can be as simple as taking a deep breath and noticing how it feels in your chest. It could also include taking time to listen to what others are saying instead of thinking about what you're going to say next. There are countless ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. You will reap the benefits of increased self-awareness, focus and clarity.
The most common way people practice mindfulness is through meditation. However, there are other ways to be present in your body's immediate environment. The most important thing is to get into the habit of being present.
A simple exercise to begin
The most basic mindfulness practice is very simple. It's referred to as 'mindful breathing'.
Sit upright in a quiet spot and very still and focus on your breathing pattern. Notice your chest expanding as you inhale and deflate as you exhale. Relax as you breathe and start to talk longer, deeper breaths. Notice the effect that each breath has on your body, that you would never pay attention to otherwise.
While focusing on your breathing, accept whatever thoughts or feelings come to you. If at first your mind wanders off, don't worry. Just come back to focusing on your breath again. Soak in the moment. That very second. Put aside your worries for the future and whatever happened in the past. Focus doing this for a few minutes until you feel calm and focused.
All it takes is five minutes per day, but doing this simple exercise can have a profound effect on how well you handle stress and anxiety throughout the rest of your day.
What you get from mindfulness
Mindfulness allows you to control your thoughts. Yet if you extend its boundaries further and further, new possibilities will begin to open up to you. It will allow you to see things as they are and not how you want them to be. It will cultivate compassion and empathy, as you can picture your effect on others. You will become much more aware of the words that you speak and their effects on others. Even the thoughts that you have will begin to distil into what is productive and what isn't.
Practising mindfulness can help you to understand the imprint of your life upon every other living thing in this world at the most advanced levels. The key to mindfulness is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Rather than striving for perfection, focus on simply being mindful of whatever comes up at this moment as much as possible throughout your day-to-day life.
Give it a go
If you don't think you're someone who benefits from mindfulness, my advice is to give it a go. It's absolutely free and you have nothing to lose. It's not about being any particular type of person. It's about being willing to try something new, let go of expectations, and be open to new experiences that can help improve your life.
You might find that there are aspects of mindfulness that work well for you but others that don't. Like any other discipline or skill, there are some things that work better than others depending on what your needs are at the moment. The key is simply being curious enough to explore those possibilities and see where they take you.
Mindfulness takes time to master. If you are new to mindfulness, it may feel like an uphill battle at first (especially if you have never practised meditation before). But the more time spent practising the technique, the easier it will become for you over time.
Mindfulness can be hard at first, because our brains are wired for distraction. They want us to get up and do things rather than sit still. But through practice, we can train ourselves to be mindful in new ways by focusing our attention so that we're fully present in our bodies.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool that you can use to improve the quality of your life in many ways that provide many benefits. Along with other powerful well-being techniques, it can provide a solid foundation on which to begin your journey to inner harmony.
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Ronin is an entrepreneur, creative, writer, blogger and founder & CEO of mello, a pro-active wellbeing platform.