“Mindfulness” has become quite a trendy word over the last years. What is it and how does a Mindfulness practice help to improve our lives?
Not that it is something new; the practice of Mindfulness or being mindful just seems to have increased in popularity or got more exposure over the years. How can we incorporate a Mindfulness practice into our everyday life, and why should we? Before we go there, let’s start off by clarifying what Mindfulness actually is.
In plain english Mindfulness is like meditation and yoga but of our mind. It is the state we are in when we are completely aware of what is going on around us and at the same time focused on our feelings, emotions, and thoughts about the events. We are not attempting to change anything, neither do we judge anything; we are simply in a state of total acceptance and awareness. Like I said, it is not a new practice. Buddhists have been practicing Mindfulness for over 2000 years.
Being Mindful is something we are and do at the same time. We practice Mindfulness and are in a state of being mindful. We call it a practice because it is a state we reach by training ourselves to be so.
Mind and Body Fitness
You could also say that Mindfulness is fitness for mind and body, as in the comparison with yoga and meditation above. Since being mindful means you are constantly aware and conscious of the state and the environment you are in, you are less likely to fill your mind with such thoughts that would cause any kind of distress or upset.
When you practice Mindfulness, you will find that you are more in sync with what is going on around you. A sure result of this is that you will learn to see things that you might otherwise have overlooked or you will not get as uptight about things you usually would.
Most of the time, we are so into the problems and stressors in our lives that we tend to forget the moment we are in. Being in this state of “conscious control” will also keep your body “fit and healthy” because the level of stress hormones secreted into your bloodstream as a result of stress, is drastically reduced.
This is a state of being which helps us focus on what is important and let go of the things that do not matter. It tends to have a therapeutic effect on our mind and bodies.
Extensive research is available which proves that Mindfulness actually helps with stress reduction.
Mindfulness practice in everyday life
How do I practice Mindfulness?
There are two ways of practising Mindfulness. You can either do a formal training such as the MBSR Free Online course or you can practice on your own much like learning to meditate. A combination of the two is probably the most effective.
If you are practising alone, start off with small steps. Undertaking to turn around your life overnight will likely turn out to be counterproductive. An aspect of Mindfulness is being gentle and kind with yourself so putting pressure on yourself and wanting to force change will not help.
Here are a few steps you can take:
- Start the day by taking time in the morning to be grateful and close the day with gratitude.
- Consider waking up to a gentle alarm.
- Take a few minutes while still in bed to stretch gently.
- Drink a glass of warm lemon water before drinking a cup of coffee.
- Learn to be patient with yourself. As I mentioned above, you are not suddenly mindful overnight. Mindfulness is a way of life. Also be compassionate with yourself.
- Take time to enjoy and savour your food. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly. Really taste your food
- Have an open mind, be curious. When we live with an open mind we are more likely to recognise opportunities showing up and change comes easier.
- Accept and acknowledge your experiences without judgement. This certainly takes some time and practice. It will require that you are patient and kind with yourself as described in number 2 above.
- Breathe more deeply more often. Take note of how you are breathing, of the air entering your nostrils and then leaving them.
How can Mindfulness improve your life?
If done consistently, practising Mindfulness on a daily basis will bring about certain changes in your life. You might notice some or all of the following:
Mindfulness quietens the mind:
You will find that your mind is is more focused, there is less jumping around from one thing to the other, there will be less of the “mind talk or chatter” that is a normal state for most of us throughout the day.
Dealing with mental issues:
Studies have shown Mindfulness to be effective in helping people deal with a variety of mental issues such as anxiety, depression, and other such issues. Follow this link to read an interesting article from The American Psychiatric Association documenting some of its findings.
In all this it is also important to point out that this might not be the right type of “therapy” for everybody or for all cases. I recommend working with your physician to determine the best course of action for you and your situation.
Mindfulness can be of great value as a way of dealing with eating disorders, as it serves to give the individual a new perspective, a new way of looking at food and their relationship to it and themselves.
Other physical issues
Apart from all this, Mindfulness also helps improve the heart rate and blood pressure. Physical issues which might be resulting in a deterioration of the quality of your life can be approached and coped with more successfully. Even illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis have been treated with Mindfulness therapy.
When it comes to resolving conflicts, Mindfulness is yet another effective method which can be implemented
Being mindful leads to heightened self reflection, one of the first steps to effecting change in your life.
Becoming better therapists
There is also evidence that psychotherapists who practice Mindfulness have “better” outcomes and improved relationships with their clients.
Mindfulness Based Stress Relief
This is probably the area that most people associate Mindfulness with.
MBSR was developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The 8 week MBSR programme uses yoga and mindfulness meditation to help participants train their minds. This helps them to be better able to deal with stress so that they can restore more balance, harmony and peace in their lives.
Meditation and the Mind
In my opinion most if not all stress arises from the mind, as it is the (untrained) mind which causes us to judge certain situations as stressful or not. Meditation is a fundamental part of this programme because of its effectiveness in calming the mind, allowing us to be more accepting and less judgemental and more at peace – all decisive factors in combating stress.
Yoga is the other leg that MBSR is based on. The Mindful yoga practice counteracts the negative results of sitting too much and /or too long in the same position – a dis-ease of our work- life. Specific yoga poses are focused on bringing balance on physical and mental levels.
A perfect combination
The combination of yoga and meditation not only helps with the stress but also allows you to take care of a lot of your physical conditions. Blood pressure can be lowered, emotions can be more easily “managed” and you can deal with emotional issues too. It allows you to give up your control of the things you can’t change and concentrate more on your feelings, thoughts and the things that actually matter.
Practising Mindfulness in our everyday lives, allows us to be in the moment and actually being aware of our surroundings free of judgement or criticism. It takes us to a relaxed mental state where our feelings, emotions, and thoughts are in balance, where we are no longer controlled by them but rather are choosing how we deal with whatever they are bringing up.