What is Mindfulness & Why You Should Give it a Try
Have you ever heard of the term "mindfulness" and wondered what exactly all the buzz was about? If so, then this article is for you as we will help shed light on what exactly mindfulness is and how you can benefit from being more mindful in your daily life.
What is Mindfulness?
Although Mindfulness Meditation has been around for thousands of years, stemming from Buddhist practices, it wasn't until the late 1970's that it was introduced to the Western world by Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, a scientist and professor of medicine. According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness can be conceptualized as:
"The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment"
Mindfulness, in more simple terms, means to be fully present in the here-and-now moment. It is the ability to not let any distractions, stresses, apprehensions, or regrets from the past or worry for the future hinder what is right in front of you. Living in the moment means that you have total awareness and are fully engaged in the present-moment and have good control over what your mind attends to. When you can notice any distracting thoughts or unwanted emotions and not judge or get caught up in them, and steer your mind back towards the present moment with compassion, you are being mindful and are not missing out on the life you are currently living.
Although mindfulness is a pretty straightforward concept, it is actually quite difficult to practice. Why? Well, in the modern world of busy lifestyles, chronic stress, excessive worry, self-doubt, and the ability to compare ourselves to others, it is hard to stay focused on what is right in front of us. In fact, a Harvard study found that people spend 47% of their waking hours not thinking about or paying attention to what is right in front of them. That is nearly half of our time not really enjoying life. That said, it is no wonder that certain emotion regulation strategies that involve not being present (e.g., suppression, rumination, or worrying) are directly linked to depression and anxiety as they unproductively take us away from what we can control, which is only the present moment.
Benefits of Mindfulness
There is an abundance of research demonstrating the vast benefits of mindfulness on our physical, emotional, psychological, and cognitive well-being. Here are some of the main highlights:
Physical Benefits of Mindfulness
Some research has shown that daily mindfulness practice (even just 5 minutes!) can help lower blood pressure and improve heart functioning, overall reducing the likelihood of an early death due to a heart attack or stroke. The American Heart Association has even published preliminary data suggesting that mindfulness meditation may be an effective adjunct treatment in coronary heart disease and its prevention.
As well, mindfulness has been shown to positively affect immune system functioning which can help our bodies fight off potential threats from diseases such as autoimmune disorders, arthritis, diabetes, and chronic pain, among other health benefits. Essentially, daily mindfulness practice can help reduce stress which in turn lowers inflammation in our bodies, ultimately promoting healthy immune functioning.
Psychological Benefits of Mindfulness
Perhaps the most prominent benefit of mindfulness is that it helps to reduce stress. Mindfulness-Based Interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) are two therapeutic programs that have been strongly supported by hundreds of research studies as effective tools to help people learn to cope more effectively with stress.
The benefits of mindfulness go beyond stress management. Mindfulness has also shown benefits in improving subjective well-being, enhancing mood, increasing positive emotions, reducing anxiety and depression, preventing and reducing job burnout, enabling healthy emotion regulation strategies, and decreasing emotional reactivity.
Cognitive Benefits of Mindfulness
Still not convinced that mindfulness is worth the hype? To help showcase the benefits of mindfulness, research has demonstrated that mindfulness may be an effective method of preventing cognitive decline in patients with Dementia and enhancing cognitive performance.