By J. Lynn Holsman, PRS
Health & Recovery Content Specialist
Edited for Medical Content by Dr. Pennington, NP
Mindfulness is a term that gets used a lot these days, especially with the onset of the Covid pandemic. Mental health professionals wanted us to be practicing mindfulness during quarantine to help our overall mental health. But what is mindfulness? And how can it help you improve your daily life? We will answer these questions and hopefully answer any other questions you may have about the practice of mindfulness.
What Is It?
By definition, mindfulness is a state of nonjudgmental awareness of what’s happening in the present moment, including the awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and senses. There are two basic concepts tied into mindfulness. They are awareness, and acceptance. During a state of being mindful, you will notice thoughts that pop into your head, feelings that might come over you, and even some physical sensations, like being warm. The point of practicing mindfulness is not to clear your mind completely, but to allow these thoughts, feelings, and sensations happen, and acknowledge them. You gain awareness of them, but do not change them. Acceptance comes into play with the same principle. If a thought pops into your head, the goal is to allow your thought to come in and pass without judging yourself or the thought. For example, if I am doing a five-minute meditation, and suddenly I hear a loud noise from outside, I would acknowledge that I heard the noise, and move on. Instead of passing judgment on the noise, I simply tell myself, “That was a loud noise. Now the noise is gone”. I don’t want to get stuck in a negative mindset of, “That noise ruined my meditation. Now I have to start over”. I simply acknowledge that it happened and move on.
How Do I Practice Mindfulness?
We say you practice the state of mindfulness because it does take practice. It’s probably not something you’ll do the first time and be an expert at, but it’s worth it to keep practicing! There are a few different ways to practice being mindful. For example, meditation is a very popular way to practice. The first thing you need to do is find a time when you can give yourself about five minutes of undistracted attention. As you continue to get better at mindfulness, you may increase your time limit, but five minutes is a good starting point. You may decide to practice while sitting on a floor or seat with your legs crossed in front of you, or you may choose to lie on a couch or bed. However you are most comfortable, sit in silence and begin to focus on your breath.
You may also choose to have some soft, comforting music playing in the background. Pay close attention to the air flowing into your lungs on your inhale. When you exhale, do so through your mouth as if you are blowing out a candle. Really focus on your breath leaving your body. When you notice a thought popping into your mind, simply acknowledge the thought and let is pass without judgment. Whenever you find yourself getting distracted, simply draw your attention back to your breath and continue your mindfulness practice. Another mindfulness practice is a great exercise for grounding. You can use it in moments of anxiety or unease. You simply take each of your senses and focus on how they are being used in this moment. For example: Name five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. You can also practice mindfulness on a daily walk, or any other daily activity. For instance, if you are on a walk and want to be more mindful, begin by paying close attention to your breath. Really feel the sensations in your body as you take each step. Go to your senses again and focus on what things you are seeing and hearing, with close detail. Once again, if distracting thoughts or sensations enter your mind, simply acknowledge that they are there, and let them pass. Go back to focusing on your breath or your senses.
Why Should I Bother?
There are multiple reasons to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine! For starters, absolutely anyone can practice this state of mind. Everyone is already equipped with everything you need to be mindful, it’s just a matter of doing it. Additionally, there have been several health benefits linked to exercising mindfulness on a regular basis. Studies have found that regularly being mindful can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It can also help with regulating emotions, which can be difficult for folks with certain mental disorders. You may also find improved memory and ability to focus after practicing being mindful. Finally, folks who make mindfulness a daily priority report having greater satisfaction in relationships overall. With so many benefits, and no real negative consequences from practicing the state of being mindful, why not give it a try?