What is Mindfulness (and how it can help you in the New Year)
This post provides an overview of what mindfulness is, what it isn't and how it can help you live a more balanced and meaningful life.
ANXIETY RELIEFCOPING SKILLS
What is Mindfulness (and how it can help you in the New Year)
Have you ever found yourself running on auto pilot - maybe you meant to go to the mall, but you ended up at your work place because that's your familiar routine? Do you find yourself constantly living in anticipation of the events of tomorrow, whether it's something negative or positive? Or perhaps ruminating on the past, what you could've, should've done in a particular scenario. How about those Sunday Scaries? This blog post will provide an overview of mindfulness, what it is and what it isn't, as well as how it can help you to lead a more peaceful, meaningful life in the present. One that has balance.
In today's fast-paced world, where distractions abound and stress levels soar, the concept of mindfulness has gained a lot of attention in the field of mental health and well-being. Mindfulness is more than just a buzzword; it's a powerful practice that can significantly impact our mental, emotional, and even physical health.
What is Mindfulness?
At its core, mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the current moment, without judgment. This means paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations without getting caught up in them or reacting impulsively. While the term is often associated with meditation, there are many ways to practice mindfulness that don't involve sitting in silence. It can be infused into various aspects of our daily lives, from mindful eating and walking to working and interacting with others.
In most therapies, mindfulness is essential. Every time you're asked what your thoughts, feelings or sensations are in the therapy room to initiate healing, you are practicing mindful awareness of your present moment experience (i.e. mindfulness).
What is Guided Meditation?
Guided meditation is a form of meditation where you will listen to a recording that guides you through a series of verbal instructions, helping them achieve a state of relaxation and focused awareness. This type differs from silent meditation in that you don't have to navigate your inner landscape independently, as guided meditation provides a structured journey with the assistance of a narrator. This type of meditation is recommended as a starting point for those who would like to enter into the world of meditation and there are a variety of apps and YouTube videos out there that offer them.
Origins of Mindfulness
The roots of mindfulness trace back to ancient Eastern traditions, particularly Buddhism. However, its principles have been embraced and adapted by various cultures and religions throughout history. In recent decades, mindfulness has been secularized and integrated into Western psychology and therapeutic practices, gaining recognition for its positive impact on mental health.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Stress Reduction: One of the most well-documented benefits of mindfulness is it being an effective stress management skill - it has the ability to reduce stress. By cultivating awareness of our thoughts and emotions, we can break free from the cycle of chronic stress and develop healthier responses to life's challenges. Mindfulness has the ability to relax the sympathetic nervous system, which is where our "fight or flight" response is located. It does this by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which, in time, reduces anxiety, stress, and depression symptoms.
Improved Emotional Regulation: Mindfulness helps us become more attuned to our emotions without being overwhelmed by them. This heightened emotional awareness empowers individuals to respond to situations more skillfully and make conscious choices rather than reacting impulsively. For example, rather than snapping back at your frustrating family member over the holidays out of anger, you will have a greater ability to think before you speak, ensuring that your boundaries are communicated both respectfully and firmly.
Enhanced Focus and Concentration: Regular mindfulness practice has been linked to improved attention and concentration. By training the mind to stay present, individuals can improve their cognitive abilities and productivity. This has an added benefit of stress management, as typically our time management improves if we have an easier time focusing.
Better Physical Health: The benefits of mindfulness are not only confined to mental and emotional health, but also physical. Studies suggest that mindfulness can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and contribute to overall physical well-being.
Enhanced Self-Awareness: Regular practice of mindfulness, in particular guided meditation, facilitates a deeper understanding of oneself. The guided journey prompts introspection and self-reflection, which in turns fosters personal growth and self-discovery.
How to Practice Mindful Living
You're probably thinking, I understand that it's helpful, but how do I do mindfulness? Here are some ways that you can incorporate it into your daily life:
Mindful Breathing: Take a few moments each day to focus on your breath. Pay attention to the sensation of each inhale and exhale, allowing your mind to settle into the present moment. At first, sometimes it can be helpful to attach a few words to this practice such as, inhaling to the thought of "hoh" and exhaling to the thought of "hum" or image each as a colour. Additionally, if you have a smart watch, usually there is a breathing exercise incorporated into them for stress management that you can access.
Body Scan Meditation: Spend time scanning your body from head to toe, paying attention to any areas of tension or discomfort. While at your desk or sitting on the couch, take a second to notice if your shoulders are tense, relax them, take a few deep breaths. This practice promotes relaxation and awareness of physical sensations.
Mindful Eating: Slow down and savor each bite during meals. Pay attention to the flavors, textures, and smells of your food. This not only enhances your eating experience but also fosters a mindful approach to nourishment.
Daily Mindfulness Rituals: Infuse mindfulness into daily activities, such as walking, commuting, or even washing dishes. Turn routine tasks into opportunities for present-moment awareness. You can do this by tuning into your 5 senses during each of these tasks (yes, that means not using your headphones for a short period of time while walking or completing an activity).
Guided Meditation: Spend 5 minute per day completing a guided meditation. For free guided meditations, simply type in guided meditation into YouTube or access the Insight Timer app with your phone. Click here for information on the Insight Timer app.
Practice Yoga: Mindfulness is one of the fundamental components of yoga. While yoga is a holistic practice that encompasses physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), and meditation, mindfulness plays a crucial role in uniting the mind, body, and spirit during the practice. So, roll out your mat, and search a free yoga practice on YouTube (or visit your local studio).