Being fully present in the here and now is the touchstone of mindfulness.
This transformative practice can be different for different people. Many diverse traditions have arisen, and everyone experiences life in unique ways. However, the underlying notion has remained the same across many cultures and traditions: be present.
Mindfulness means experiencing the world as is, without judgment. It means avoiding being overly reactive or letting what is going on around you overwhelm you. To be mindful is to be aware of your emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations -- and to view them without creating labels for them. When you're practicing mindfulness, you are accepting the world with peace and with curiosity.
If this all sounds too abstract, don't worry: we discuss concrete examples of mindfulness later in this article. First, let's delve a little bit into the roots of this tradition. Where did the concept mindfulness come from, and why has it remained so popular for so long? We also discuss a few of the reasons why mindfulness appears to have significant benefits for both physical and emotional well-being.
The Origins and Influence of Mindfulness
Mindfulness has its roots in Eastern religion
; however, it is not necessarily a religious practice for many people¹. Modern psychology has adopted the practice of mindfulness as a method of coping with a variety of mental health concerns. Of course, mindfulness can be just as much about exploring or boosting your emotions as it can be about treating negative feelings. Anybody can use the practice for spiritual and mental development.
All different types of people use mindfulness techniques to learn how to deal with life more effectively. Spirituality does not necessitate religion and mindfulness can be used to become more in tune with your spiritual self. Mindfulness, practiced by people all over the world from all walks of life, and although its origins are from Eastern religion, it does not interfere with any religious practices or beliefs. Many Western religions have been influenced by these practices throughout the years -- from the Catholic tradition of centering prayer to Muslim interpretations of meditation.
The Emotional Benefits of Mindfulness
An ironic fact about our busy modern lifestyles: as we do more and more, we sometimes begin to experience less of small and intangible ways that make life so beautiful.
Mindfulness is one way that you can get in touch with yourself and your real life that doesn't cost anything or making demands on your time other than short practice sessions.
When you practice mindfulness, you are typically going to feel more in touch with yourself and your true feelings. The practice of being present and in-tune with the world around you can help you learn to accept yourself more as you are and enjoy life to a fuller degree. The spiritual nature of mindfulness allows you to come to peace with yourself without worry or concern about your thoughts and feelings which can help you be more kind to yourself.
If you suffer from depression or anxiety, studies suggest that the practice of mindfulness may help ease your symptoms over time². You can find new strength as you accept your thoughts and feelings and become more in touch with other parts of your emotions that you had not previously accepted.
With all of the mixed messages and general chaos in life, we can be overwhelmed with all of these stimuli that tells us what to think and how to feel, but never gives up the time and place to do it.
The more you practice mindfulness, you become calmer and more capable of facing life's adversities. Mindfulness is unlikely to solve all of your problems, but it can give you an increased perspective. Mindfulness provides a home base within to work from that you did not have before, and as life progresses, you have a new foundation to support you as you move along.
Some of the other emotional benefits of mindfulness include:
- A higher state of mental well-being
- Handling your emotions more effectively
- A more positive mood
- Closer relationships with your friends, family, and coworkers
Imagine meeting the day with calm acceptance rather than the rough start you've become accustomed to, and having this power throughout each day. Achieving this focused and calm state of mind is possible with effective mindfulness practices.
The Physical Benefits of Mindfulness
The positive effects of a mindful mental state go beyond the realm of your mind. Studies show that mindfulness offers a myriad of physical health benefits as well, including:
Improved Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. In one study, patients with prehypertension who began practicing mindfulness showed significant reductions in blood pressure when compared with the control group.
Studies in patients with breast cancer and HIV/AIDS showed higher T-Cell activity among patients who practiced mindfulness, which can help reduce the risk of infections.
Reduced Cell Aging
Multiple studies lead scientists to be optimistic about the anti-aging effects of meditation and mindfulness in general.
Five Examples of Everyday Mindfulness
Before you take steps to practice mindfulness formally, check out how many parts you may already practice. Do you pay attention to how you feel without making judgment calls? Do you focus on the present moment and enjoy things as they happen? Alternatively, are you always looking ahead without observing what is going on around you and analyzing everything you think and feel?
If you are in the moment much of the time, just living life, you are probably well on your way. There are many things you can do to make sure that you are mindful in your everyday activities. Keeping in mind what we now know about mindfulness, carefully consider new ways to practice being in the moment and fully alive.
Pay Attention To Your Surroundings
When you wake up in the morning, pay attention to your surroundings, such as the feeling of a warm bed sheet or comforter. Maybe there is fresh air coming in from the window. Listen for the sound of birds chirping, and look at the trees, grass, clouds, and sun out of your window. Just being physically present in your life and being aware of what is going is essential.
Eat Slowly and Enjoy Your Food
When you are eating your food, fix the time to eat slowly and enjoy your food. Notice the taste and texture of your food. Wonder to yourself about whether it is salty or sweet, hot or cold. Do you feel full after eating, or could you use a little more? How does the drink taste with your meal? Slow down and enjoy your meal and notice what is going on.
Focus on the Sensation of Water
When you are in the shower or bath, pay attention to the water and how it feels on your skin. Look at the shampoo on your hair and skin. Notice the steam in the room. Notice all of the little things about your shower or bath that you may ordinarily overlook.
Notice Sounds, Smells, and Texture While Cooking
When you are cooking your food, pay attention to the ingredients. When you prepare the food and are cutting or chopping, look at the texture and feel of the food ingredients. Look at the bowls and pans that you're cooking with; look at everything around your cooking area. Be aware of your surroundings and how the smells of the food make you hungry.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Where you are walking outside of your home, pay attention to your surroundings. Look at the ground under your feet or the sidewalk or the street. Look at the cars and people going by you. Pay attention to life all around you. Notice what people are saying or doing. Pay attention to all the details that you may have been missing in your head long race to survive.
Many things are going on around you, even if you live in the country. Pay attention to everything around you, and you can become more in-tune with life itself. These are some basic ways to practice mindfulness, but you can pay attention to life with mindfulness practices no matter where you are.
Making Mindfulness Part of Your Life
Some people may choose to try formal mindfulness to prepare themselves for mindfulness in everyday life. Find a quiet place free of distractions and be in a comfortable position while becoming aware of your breathing and body. Keep in mind that you are not to judge yourself and how you are thinking and feeling. These simple mindfulness sessions are good times to practice meditation as well.
Sometimes, you may want to create a mindfulness pause during the day. If your life is becoming stressful at any given point in time, slip away to a quiet place and space to perform a few exercises. Take small deep breaths, breathing from your belly up into your chest. Hold the breath a moment and then begin to exhale slowly, letting your body relax as you let your breath out. Focus on the breath. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings, but do not judge them.
Using these techniques can help prepare you for a life of mindfulness practice and help you become more accustomed to what you need to do daily. The purpose of mindfulness is to learn how to be kind to yourself if you give yourself a healthy foundation of acceptance of life in the present. Practicing mindfulness can help you in many areas of your life.
Spending the time to learn how to practice mindfulness is time well spent, and the benefits can help you throughout your life. There are no side effects of mindfulness and many people who practice regularly report living happier and more fulfilling lives as a result.
(1) Selva, J (June 2020) History of Mindfulness: From East to West and Religion to Science
(2) Suttie, J (October 2018) Five Science-Backed Reasons Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health