“Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
This is the definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn, author, and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts. Many have heard of mindfulness, perhaps without realizing exactly what it means or why people practice it.
In the simplest of terms, mindfulness is a way to focus on the present moment, without getting stuck on events in the past or worrying about what the future has to bring. Instead, the intention is to be fully aware of what’s going on right here, right now. Along with this intention, there is a physical aspect to mindfulness, as well. As one practices mindfulness, normally an emphasis is put on noticing the small things, such as bodily sensations, breathing, or posture.
Turning Off Autopilot
One way to think about mindfulness is by turning off the autopilot switch that so many people use to go about their everyday routine without thinking too much about it. Practicing mindfulness is about noticing all of the details encompassed by the daily routine: paying attention to the surrounding space, the people within it, and the activity that fills it. Noticing these simple things can help you stay rooted in the moment, without intruding on obsessive thoughts about what just happened or what’s to come.
Types of Mindfulness
One reason that many people choose to incorporate mindfulness into their lives is to reduce stress. Others turn to mindfulness as a way to manage negative feelings like anxiety and depression. Instead of ruminating on negative emotions or feelings, people can instead actively focus on the present moment.
Contrary to popular belief, there are different ways to practice mindfulness. The image that pops into some people’s heads when they think about mindfulness is a yogi seated on the floor, legs perfectly crossed, lost in deep meditation. And while mindfulness can be a part of meditation practice, the two practices aren’t the same thing. Meditation is a seated practice where one focuses on a mantra to clear the mind. During this practice, the aim is to breathe deeply and slowly while repeating the mantra to experience inner peace, open the heart, or open the mind. There are many different kinds of meditation depending on the intention.
Want an in-depth overview of meditation, check out our article 'What is Meditation'.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, can be practiced in different ways. You can do it anytime, anywhere, no equipment required. During meditation, the mantra is supposed to help keep the mind from wandering, to stay focused, and to remain clear. Mindfulness is somewhat the opposite. Instead of trying to keep the mind clear of thoughts or distractions, one simply has to notice the things around them, without judgment. When one‘s thoughts drift toward past or present worries, the purpose of mindfulness kicks in: to gently brings things back to the here and now.
Practicing Mindfulness Meditation
As stated, mindfulness is all about taking a pause from negative self-talk to be in the moment and pay attention to one’s surroundings. This can involve taking time to take a breath, close one’s eyes, and reset. However, there is a more structured way to practice mindfulness, mindfulness meditation. There are many types of mindfulness meditations, including these popular ones.
Body Scan Meditation
One way to begin is with body scan meditation. This is a useful tool for people to check in with their bodies. Negative emotions, like stress, can often take a toll on physical health, causing painful or uncomfortable symptoms. Body scan meditation is just as it sounds: taking the time to notice how each part of the body feels paying attention to any pain or discomfort.
One way to do this is to find a comfortable spot on the floor, with eyes closed, and breath in and out. Starting at the top of the head, working your way down, think about what feels good and what doesn’t. The intention isn’t to change anything, but to breathe and to pay attention to how every part of the body feels in the moment.
Those that find it difficult to practice mindfulness while seated can try walking meditation as a way to connect with nature and move the body. Traditionally, this type of mindfulness meditation, also called forest bathing, was practiced by walking through the forest and focusing on the five senses. However, it can be done anywhere.
While walking, the destination isn’t as important as the questions that a person asks themself. How do I feel? What can I see, smell, and hear? It’s a simple activity that can bring the focus back to the here and now as one connects with mind and body.
A very simple mindful meditation is mindful breathing. The idea is that the only focus is on breathing, such as the rhythm, the natural flow, and the way it feels. Each inhale and exhales serves as an anchor to the present, thinking only about what’s happening now and the way it feels.
To learn more about types of meditation, check out our article, 9 Popular Types of Meditation.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness can help to improve both physical and mental health. Some positive effects that people may notice are increased joy of and presence at the moment. With the autopilot off, all of the small things that bring joy to life come into focus. People who practice mindfulness report being less worried about success and the future and have higher levels of self-esteem, along with deeper connections with the people in their lives.
For years, psychotherapists have used mindfulness as a tool when it comes to certain conditions, like depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Along with therapy, mindfulness can also be used when treating eating disorders, substance abuse, and couples therapy.
Physically, the stress relief that comes from mindfulness can improve sleep and help to relieve certain gastrointestinal problems. Mindfulness meditation can also be used to treat heart disease, reduce chronic pain, and lower overall blood pressure.
To learn more about the benefits of meditation, check out our article, Top 10 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation.
Sofia Health can connect you with professionals to help you improve both your mental and physical health. Complementary therapies and practices, like mindfulness, can help reduce stress and enable you to face any challenges head-on. Visit Sofia Health to learn more about how mindfulness and other complementary practices can heal both the mind and body.
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