What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
What does mindfulness and meditation have to do with each other?
By definition, “mindfulness” refers to the informal practice of present moment awareness that can be applied to any waking situation. Meditation is the formal practice of finding peace within. Awareness of peace is achieved when mental chatter is decreased.
What are the benefits of mindfulness and meditation?
Researchers have found that even a single session of mindfulness meditation can result in reduced anxiety. Along with the well-documented benefits of mindfulness meditation, another surprising finding of the mind-body practice is that it appears to increase gray matter in the brain. Researchers found that brief meditation training (four days) can lead to enhanced ability to sustain attention. Other improvements from brief meditation training included working memory, executive function. Many studies have stated that the immune system becomes strengthened through meditation and mindfulness. Anyone who’s suffered the lingering mental and physical effects of a poor night’s sleep on a regular basis, as I have on numerous occasions in the past, can appreciate this all-important benefit from mindfulness meditation: better sleep.
Why is mindful meditation so important to mental health?
In recent decades, researchers have been gaining insight into the benefits of practicing this ancient tradition. By studying more secular versions of mindfulness meditation, they’ve found that learning to pay attention to our current experiences and accept them without judgment might indeed help us to be happier. Studies to date suggest that mindfulness affects many aspects of our psychological well-being—improving our mood, increasing positive emotions, and decreasing our anxiety, emotional reactivity, and job burnout.
How do you practice mindfulness?
Take a seat. Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
Set a time limit. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as 5 or 10 minutes. Notice your body. You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, you can sit loosely cross-legged, in lotus posture, you can kneel—all are fine. Just make sure you are stable and in a position you can stay in for a while. Feel your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes out and as it goes in. Notice when your mind has wandered. Inevitably, your attention will leave the sensations of the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing this—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—simply return your attention to the breath.
Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Just come back.