Why Should I Practice Mindfulness?
The omnipresence of modern technology has made it nearly impossible to truly disconnect. As such, both our physical and mental health are heavily affected by our ability to regulate our emotions and manage our stress. That’s where mindfulness training and mindfulness exercises come in. In fact, studies have shown that even just a few weeks of practicing mindfulness can offer a variety of physical and psychological minutes.
Let’s dive in and take a deeper look at what mindfulness is and why you should start practicing it.
What is Mindfulness?
In its most simple form, mindfulness is a meditation technique that encourages you to embrace moment to moment awareness of everything around you. When practicing mindfulness, you tune into the present moment and have total acceptance of the current period of time with no care for the past or present. Any other thoughts that do arise are acknowledged and then passed without judgement. In essence, you learn how to slow your racing thoughts, let go of negativity and calm both your mind and body.
While many believe that mindfulness is tied to Buddhism and Buddhist culture, the idea of using a special prayer or meditation ritual to overcome preoccupations and become more appreciative is pretty common practice in many religions. When it comes to the widespread popularity of mindfulness as a stress management technique though, we can thank Jon Kabat Zinn. The Professor emeritus and founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center helped bring the effects of mindfulness into the mainstream with his Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCT) courses.
MBCT is a modified form of cognitive therapy that uses mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga and breathing exercises to help you regulate emotions, focus your attention and feel fully engaged with life. It has been regularly used in a wide array of settings from schools to hospitals, and even veteran’s programs where military heroes struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) learn how to better cope with stress, anxiety and depression.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Improves Mental Health and Physical Well-Being
Taking the time to be more present in daily life and focus on your thoughts and feelings offers a variety of positive mental health benefits such as reducing stress or even training your brain to thwart negativity. Some researchers believe that the mental impact of mindfulness meditation is so significant, it can even have positive physical health benefits such as boosting the ability of our immune systems to fight off illness.
Helps Fight Obesity
Anyone who has ever struggled with obesity or other weight issues knows that the battle is as much emotional as it is physical. Mindfulness allows you to cultivate the correct mindset for promoting healthier eating habits and appreciating the food you do eat, ultimately giving you the mental tools needed to lose weight.
Those who are easily distracted or who struggle to stay productive, such as those with ADHD, have been found to experience increased focus, memory, attention skills and even the ability to recall information better after they started regularly practicing mindfulness.
Some researchers have found that mindfulness can actually increase gray matter in the key parts of our brain that control learning, memory, emotions, empathy and more. In fact, with such a positive impact on the brain, it’s not shocking to realize that meditation practices can even go as far as helping with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma and even substance abuse.
Increased Compassion and Better Emotional Regulation
Many researchers believe mindfulness training can increase activity in the neural networks responsible for regulating our emotions and empathy. This offers a powerful altruistic effect where we are more likely to help someone in need during periods where we have been actively practicing mindfulness. Evidence suggests there is often a boost in self-compassion too.
Better Relationship Satisfaction
Mindfulness training has been shown to have a positive impact on relationship satisfaction. It makes couples not only feel more optimistic and relaxed, but also helps each partner feel closer to the other. This doesn’t just pertain to romantic relationships either. Parents practicing mindfulness report being happier with their parenting skills and their relationships with their children. As an added benefit, the social skills of the children have also been shown to improve .
How to Practice Mindfulness
Basic Meditation Technique
Most basic mindfulness techniques are forms of meditation for beginners. At its core, the key to mindfulness is to pay close attention to your thoughts and sensations without judgement so you can achieve a state of relaxation where the mind focuses solely on the present.
Sit or lay in a comfortable position without any distractions and begin focusing on your breath. Some may choose to also use a sound or phrase known as a “mantra” that they repeat quietly (or even silently) to maintain focus. This takes practice. Your thoughts will still come and go as your mind wanders. Let that happen without any care or judgement. Once they pass, return your focus to your breathing or mantra.
Take a moment to truly notice every part of your body from head to toe. Hone in on the feelings and subtle body sensations. If an itch or tingling occurs, notice it (without judgement) and let it pass.
Allow your senses to pick up on the sounds, smells, tastes and touches around you that you may often overlook. Recognize them in your head. Name them, feel them, and then let them go.
As you practice meditation and mindfulness, emotions are bound to come and go. You can acknowledge them, name them and even accept them. Embrace that they are there without any judgement and then let them go.
Attempting to deny cravings is a difficult battle to win. Instead, notice how your body feels as an urge enters. Pay attention to the sensations and emotions it evokes as it passes through different parts of your body. Instead of wishing it away, take pride in the fact that you have control over your urges and ride the wave until they subside.