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.
Having good cognitive performance is important for a lot of basic functions and mindfulness has been shown to help various cognitive abilities such as memory, concentration, active listening, decision-making, task efficiency, especially when under stress, and overall better job performance.
Key Elements of Mindfulness
There are three important components of mindfulness that work together to help cultivate a state of mindful awareness:
The aspect of intention refers to what you want to achieve while you practice mindfulness. This is a motivational factor that will help you stay focused and grounded in your desired benefits. Whether it is to reduce your stress through a quick mid-day meditation, improve your emotional balance, or to help cope with anxiety and worry by gently noticing your thoughts and allowing them be, get intentional in your mindfulness practice as that will better help you master the skill.
Another part of mindfulness is attention, which is concerned with bringing awareness to your internal or external experiences. This is a purposeful attentional shift, driven by the intent for your practice, that you can use to direct conscious awareness to your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, memories, and physical surroundings.
An essential aspect of mindfulness is having a non-judgmental, curious, and compassionate attitude. When we notice our current experiences, it is important that we do not criticize or try to control them. Meet whatever experiences you are facing with kindness and openness to help you gain deeper insight and accept the moment just as it is.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Because mindfulness involves intentionally noticing our present experiences, we can virtually practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime, and during anything. All you need to do is pay attention, on purpose, without judgment, to the present moment.
That said, there are a variety of formal mindfulness meditation practices you can try to help cultivate mindfulness. I recommend starting with just 5 minutes each day, gradually working your way up to 20-30 minutes daily. There are various websites that have guided meditations to follow along to or you can download mindfulness-based apps (Insight Timer, Headspace, Calm) that have meditations.
To start practicing mindfulness on your own, check out our blog post here that covers some very practical and simple ways you can be more mindful.
Looking to learn more about how to get the most out of mindfulness meditation? Get in touch with us today to speak with a counsellor who can help you use mindfulness to reduce anxiety, cope with stress, improve your mood, and regulate your emotions.