What is Mindfulness?
Written by Michelle Thomas.
We hear about mindfulness all the time, whether it be from those clickbait articles on Facebook talking about mindfulness techniques, from your workplace hosting mindfulness meditation workshops, or even from your best friend declaring she has found the secret to self-compassion during your morning breakfast catch up. It’s on everyone’s lips, but what the hell is it and where did it come from?
This article goes over everything you need to know about Mindfulness including:
The History of Mindfulness
What Exactly Mindfulness is
Why People Practice Mindfulness & the Benefits
The Difference Between Mindfulness & Meditation
Ways you can Practice Mindfulness Everyday
Mindfulness for Depression & Anxiety
The History of Mindfulness
Mindfulness hit the psychology world by storm around the 1970s popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Established from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the MBSR program has revolutionized the way we work with people and the way we look at mental health.
Considered the ‘third wave’ of psychological sciences, we are focussing more on approaches like; acceptance, commitment, mediation and mindfulness. Now more than ever we are focussed on holistic healing and coming to understand the benefits of eastern philosophies like Buddhist meditation practices. If it’s good for professors, it’s gotta be good for us, right?
This article aims to teach you all about the practice of mindfulness and its benefits as well as provide you some pointers on how you can incorporate it into daily life.
What exactly is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness seems to do it all, it’s the key to removing negative thoughts, lowering blood pressure, and helping with emotional regulation. It seems like a well-being miracle, a true game-changer. That’s all well and good, but what does ‘mindfulness’ actually mean?
Depending on who you ask you’ll get different answers because mindfulness means different things to different people. Mindfulness practice is heavily personal, it’s a part of daily life and it’s an experience that is unique to each person who practices it. But for the purpose of this post and to stop us from getting all philosophical for the next 15 hours, let’s settle on a definition.
If you take a look at Oxford Dictionary, it’s described as; a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations.
In a nutshell, the practice of mindfulness is about living in the present moment. It’s a mental state that focusses on what is happening at this exact second, both in our internal state of being and the external world. To practice mindfulness is to both acknowledge and accept our world as we are experiencing it in real-time.
When I talk about acceptance, I mean all of it. Even the shitty thoughts, crappy weather, chronic pain, the whole lot. It’s not about preventing negative thoughts and physical sensations from happening, but to instead be aware of them happening and accept them.
There are lots of ways to incorporate mindfulness into daily life, some people do it through meditation sessions, doing a daily body scan and deeply focusing on daily activities instead of existing on autopilot. I will elaborate on some of these further on, but it’s important to know there are many ways to practice mindfulness, it’s all about finding the right one for you.
Now I know all of this might sound a little cryptic but bear with me, it’ll make sense as I continue.
What are Some Mindfulness Techniques?
To be a mindfulness pro, you’ll need to walk around in a circle looking brain-washed, practice mind control and stare intently at a raisin.
Ok got it? Good. I’ll continue.
I kid, I kid. Let me elaborate. As said previously, practicing mindfulness is about bringing your focus to the present moment, without judgement. Trying to do this off the bat can be pretty tough, but there are several mindfulness techniques you can employ to better prepare yourself.
Imagine you’ve never seen a raisin before and you’re handed one (ok, stay with me here). Observe the crevices of its wrinkled skin, notice the way it feels pinched between your fingers, savor the sweetness. Guess what’s happened? You’re engaging in the practice of mindfulness. Your attention has been brought into the present moment from a little wrinkly nugget, you’re welcome.
It’s in the process of taking time to truly notice something that you develop moment awareness.
The body scan can be as structured or as free as you like, it can be done lying down in a quiet room or even when you’re going about everyday life. Begin by focussing on your breath, if your mind wanders during this process, gently bring your focus back. Focus on your bodily sensations, feel the weight of your body on the floor, feel the texture of your clothes, and any pain or tingling throughout. Develop total awareness of your physical sensations. This practice usually begins at one end of the body and continues over to the other end. Competing mindfulness exercises like this hold many health benefits as it takes you out of your mind and into the now.
Write about your experience of a stressful situation or a situation that is bothering you. As you journal be conscious to not judge your experience and be aware of any feelings that arise you write. Journaling can help to organize your thoughts, relieve stress, assist you with mindfulness training and provides an outlet to let go of any trauma to better help you remain present.
Why do People Practice Mindfulness? What are the Benefits?
People choose to practice mindfulness for many different reasons. It could be for their religious beliefs, to help with past trauma, to let go of negative thoughts or emotional self-regulation. Many people practice it to help manage stressful situations and others practice it as part of their stress reduction (MBSR) program for mental health. Some people utilize mindfulness as a tool to help deepen their meditation practice. No matter the reason, there are many benefits of mindfulness.
Do you really want to know about all of the benefits? How much time have you got?
Mindfulness has been proven to improve mental health and overall well-being. It has been shown to help manage chronic pain, relieve stress and help with emotional regulation. It helps to reduce negative thoughts via acceptance and increase positive emotions in the process.
People who practice mindfulness report having better life satisfaction and are better capable of managing stressors of daily life.
Other effects of mindfulness include; sleep improvement, lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease, improve digestion, promote healthy glucose levels. It can lengthen life, improve the quality of life and reduce symptoms of depression.
It has been shown to help with a broad range of psychological disorders from depression, anxiety, relationship and family issues, substance abuse problems and eating disorders.
What's the difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation?
Meditation is an overarching term that encompasses different meditation techniques such as walking meditation, mantras and chanting to name a few. Love, compassion, patience, and dissolving the ego are skills developed through mediation sessions to ultimately achieve the utmost point of consciousness.
Mindfulness is the act of bringing focus to the present moment, or bringing your awareness to something (breath, body, raisins), that in doing so brings your focus to the present moment. Some argue that mindfulness is a meditation technique.
I would argue that meditation is as much a part of mindfulness as mindfulness is a part of meditation. They both work interchangeably, and the benefits of meditation and mindfulness are relative. Mindfulness helps deepen meditation practice, and meditation makes for a richer mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness has deep roots in Buddhist philosophy and practice and is heavily intertwined with meditation practice. So much so that mindfulness meditation is an important technique employed by MBSR and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy programs.
How Can we Practice Mindfulness Everyday?
Every morning when you wake up, take a moment to focus on your breath while reminding yourself of all the things you are grateful for.
Remove the autopilot from daily life tasks, things that would normally be done without a second thought like brushing your teeth and washing your face. Bring your mind to the present moment through such tasks. Treat even the most mundane of tasks as a mindfulness exercise.
Bring your awareness to your feelings, notice how you feel when you speak to particular people or are in particular situations. Not only will this help you with emotion regulation, but it will also help develop better self-awareness. Practice mindful listening with each conversation, it’s much easier to employ these mindfulness exercises instead of allocating time each day for mindfulness training.
Slow it down. You’ll be amazed how much shit you can get done without the chatter in your mind. Let procrastination be a thing of the past. We actually don’t have the ability to multitask, by slowing down and methodically focussing on one thing at a time your mind and body will thank you.
Does Mindfulness Work for Anxiety and Depression?
Yes. Did I stutter?
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a wellness program that connects the mind, body and spirit and allows you to have more control over your mind and thoughts produced. Originated by Jon Kabat-Zinn from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, it is a well-researched and effective program for the prevention and treatment for a wide range of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Of course, there are certain socioeconomic, biological and environmental factors that MBSR cannot necessarily change, and none of this should replace medical advice. But using MBSR in conjunction with other treatments can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy can be just as effective as antidepressants for preventing relapse.
Anxiety and depression are both pervasive disorders that can remove a person’s capacity to function in everyday life. Ever heard the term neurons that fire together, wire together? Well, this is because repeated anxiety responses go into auto-pilot over time, meaning the brain automatically reverts to anxiety-provoking thoughts, feelings and behaviours. What MBSR aims to do is to remove the unconscious thoughts, promote moment awareness, create distance from the anxiety trigger and create better control.
Mindfulness teaches sufferers to practice self-compassion, self-love, self-regulation, and generate positive emotions that create space for healing and recovery.
What are Some Mindfulness Exercises?
There are several mindfulness exercises in the Wakeful Travel Journal to help you practice mindfulness on the go. Below is a quick summary, but to get the full lowdown you’ll have to pick up a copy of your own.
Visualization Meditation Practice
This meditation practice combines connecting with your body and mind, incorporating breathing and mindfulness techniques as well as visualization. This exercise can help you relieve stress as well as generate positive emotions surrounding plans and goals for the future.
Using colouring in your mindfulness practice mimics the same activity state as meditating and so it’s a highly effective tactic to help you come into the present moment.
Self Love Exercises
Self-love can be a form of mindfulness. And we got a whole wack of self-love practices and resources in another article.
Gratitude Breathing Practice
Taking a moment to focus on the breath and remind yourself of everything you appreciate in life helps to generate positive emotions as well as bring your focus into the present moment.
After all, all that matters is now.
Read that again.