What Is Mindfulness
When people hear the word mindfulness, they can imply the practice has something to do with the mind, but many people don’t know or understand much more beyond that. Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of intentionally focusing attention on the current moment and embracing that moment free from judgment.
Wherever you are, be there totally. ~ Eckhart Tolle
It involves paying attention to what is happening in the mind, body, and the surrounding environment, and approaching those things with both curiosity and compassion.
The practice of mindfulness bolsters awareness of thoughts, sensations, and feelings while also improving our ability to cope. In general, mindfulness leads to enhanced mental clarity, a greater sense of well-being, and better ability to care for self and others.
Evidence suggests the practice of mindfulness has been in existence for thousands of years as a part of various religions and secular traditions. Mindfulness has been practiced by Hindu and Buddhist religions, within yoga, and among other non-religious meditation.
In the US, mindfulness is historically linked to Jon Kabat-Zinn who first introduced mindfulness as a student at MIT. Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, adapted the Buddhist teachings that he had learned on mindfulness to develop his stress reduction and relaxation program, which is now called “mindfulness-based stress reduction.” Kabat-Zinn linked mindfulness to science more than Buddhism and his integration of Western science, mindfulness has become a popular practice here in the United States (Surban, 2020).
If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath. ~ Amit Ray
22 Key Benefits Of Mindfulness
There are a host of benefits related to mindfulness that has been uncovered via various research and studies. These benefits can be seen in physical health, mental health, and emotional health, among various other places. The following outlines a list of specific benefits of mindfulness and the impact those benefits have.
Look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of This Moment. ~ Rumi
1| Survive And Thrive In A Covid World
“Mindfulness is really important in times like this,” says Auguste H. Fortin VI, MD, MPH, a Yale Medicine internal medicine specialist.
Anne Dutton, MA, LCSW, director of the Yale Stress Center mindfulness education program says “the mind’s constant chatter can be stopped by mindfulness, which can be invaluable when people are worrying about everything from whether they wore their mask properly in the grocery store to how to help a loved one who is seriously ill. Strong emotions like fear, sadness, and anger—that we are all feeling right now—are perpetuated by ruminative thinking… a mindfulness practice can help us connect with awareness and let things come and go without our attention getting stuck on it.” (ref.)
According to the Department Of Psychiatry At University Of Michigan Medicine Department…
“During the current pandemic, there is so much uncertainty concerning the future, and many threats to our security (physical, social, emotional, and financial). It is totally natural and normal to feel anxious, fearful, and frustrated. You might also experience anger or disappointment towards our governmental institutions for not moving as fast and as efficiently as you had hoped, or toward people not being as careful as you would like them to be in terms of social distancing, and so forth. Those are all normal and natural reactions to this abnormal situation.
Mindfulness can help us acknowledge this situation, without allowing us to be carried away with strong emotions; it can, in turn, help bring ourselves back to a centered calm. Only then can we see more clearly what it is we have control over and what it is that we do not. Mindfulness also shows us how best to proceed, with compassion towards oneself and others.” (ref.)
2| Experience Joy – Be Present
Consider this scenario. You are playing with your kid, he or she is running around, laughing, growing, and developing right in front of your eyes, but you are not there. Your body is, but your mind is thinking about that promotion that you never got. You are pissed off and feel slighted. You are fantasizing that the person they picked is going to screw it up and you will be glad. So, because your mind is in the past, obsessing over something that you have no control over and ruminating, you missed out on precious moments with your child, moments of joy and bonding, moments you will never get back. You also caused yourself stress, anxiety and those thoughts did absolutely nothing to support your wellbeing.
When we are not present in the day to day moments of life we lose out on precious joys and experiences that enrich our lives. This is one of the greatest gifts of mindfulness and being present.
Let go of the past, forget the future, live in the moment, in the here and the now. That is where your life is, the only reality that is real.
Be where you are, otherwise you will miss your life. ~ Buddha
3| Better Overall Health
Mindfulness has been shown to improve overall health and wellness. One study on mindfulness and health showed that mindfulness was linked to improved cardiovascular health because its practice led to a lower incidence of smoking, increased physical activity, and a healthier body mass index.
Another study that looked at how mindfulness impacted health behaviors found that the practice of mindfulness enhanced or increased behaviors related to health, such as getting regular health check-ups, avoiding alcohol and nicotine, being more physically active, and using seat belts.
There has also been research to suggest that mindfulness is positively linked to lower blood pressure, particularly when the mindfulness practitioner is skilled in nonreactivity and non-judging.
Yet another study on mindfulness and its impacts on psychological and physical health showed that in obese or overweight adults, mindfulness aided individuals in improving eating attitudes and behaviors, losing weight, and decreasing depression and anxiety.
4| Stress Reduction
There have been multiple studies supporting the idea that mindfulness aids in stress reduction. A 2016 study found that mindfulness produced less avoidance and more approach coping as a response to stress than relaxation or self-affirmation controls. Mindfulness was shown to facilitate an adaptive response to daily stressors and aided in the alleviation of stress by elevating emotion regulation which creates a better mood and ability to cope with stress.
5| Decreased Depression
The link between mindfulness and decreased depressive symptoms has long been established. A 2016 study by Costa and Barnhofer found that just a brief training in mindfulness aided study participants dealing with depression by leading to a reduction in depressive symptoms via greater emotional regulation.
Another study showed that Mindfulness Behavioral Cognitive Therapy reduced depressive episodes, anxiety, and stress. Additional research has found that mindfulness also helps those identified as chronically depressed, suicidal, or having suicidal thoughts and ideations.
In these individuals, mindfulness has been shown to reduce suicidal thoughts and ease symptoms of depression.
Mindfulness is thought to be so effective because it gives people the tools they need to better cope with and regulate their emotions which leads to a better ability to cope with and manage depression.
Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality. ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
6| Increased Academic Performance
Consistently practicing mindfulness has been shown to boost academic success among students in multiple groups and in multiple ways.
Research shows that elementary students who practice mindfulness go on to exhibit higher levels of academic achievement, greater prosocial behaviors, and a greater ability to regulate their emotions. Among teenagers enrolled in a mindfulness program and in pursuit of a general education certificate, mindfulness helped decrease anxiety and depression which contributed to greater academic success.
A study of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who participated in a mindfulness program saw lower rates of stress which led them to focus better at school.
A study among urban males who partook in MBSR saw less stress, reduced anxiety, and decreased negative coping which improved their ability to deal with academic stress and achieve academic success.
A study of homeless middle school students who participated in a mindfulness course also showed greater levels of well-being and a higher reliance on mindfulness in school which led to greater academic achievement and overall quality of life.
Another study conducted among ADHD children showed that the practice of mindfulness led to less aggression and conduct problems which contributed to better focus on academic activities.
7| Better Ability to Deal With Bullying
It turns out that mindfulness can also help children and young people cope with bullies. A 2017 Chinese study found that mindfulness could play a role in protecting children against the depressive symptoms associated with being the victim of bullying.
A 2005 dissertation by Sandra Mccloy looked at how mindfulness can be used as a coping tool for bullying by helping kids consider perspectives that differ from their own and find more appropriate and constructive reactions when they are bullied.
Research also suggests that mindfulness can help improve empathy and social/emotional learning which could stop bullies from engaging in bullying behaviors.
8| Lowered Blood Pressure
A new study shows that mindfulness can be effective for reducing high blood pressure. A study published in the journal PLOS One found that participants who enrolled in the Mindfulness Based Blood Pressure Reduction Program created specifically to assess acceptability, feasibility, and effects of mindfulness on hypothesized proximal self-regulation mechanisms saw significant reduction in blood pressure levels that were still in effect at follow-up examinations 1 year after the trial.
After the 1 year mark, blood pressure of the participants was still lower than their baseline, and participants who had previously struggled to follow healthy lifestyle recommendations prior to the study were still maintaining positive lifestyle changes.
What would it be like if I could accept life – accept this moment – exactly as it is? ~ Tara Brach
9| Boost Resilience
Resilience is the ability to bounce back quickly from the challenges and hardships one faces. Mindfulness has been shown to boost resilience and help in the understanding and regulation of one’s emotions.
A study showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy reduced problem behaviors, attention problems, and anxiety while simultaneously improving social-emotional resiliency. Another study on mindfulness and resilience looked at children involved in the mental health system and/or the welfare system.
The study found that mindfulness improved emotional regulation, mood, empathy, confidence, self-esteem, coping, and social skills. Additionally, their ability to pay attention and focus was increased.
10| Enhanced Job Performance
Increasing research has gone into the link between mindfulness and job performance, with much evidence supporting the positive impact mindfulness can have on workplace performance. A 2014 study by Dane & Brummel showed that mindfulness when used in the service industry, improved job performance even when adding a control for workers’ level of engagement.
Another study conducted in 2014 among office employees who participated in an 8-week mindfulness training found these participants experienced greater levels of job satisfaction and lower levels of job-related stress. This ultimately increased job performance as rated by their employers.
In 2016, Gallant found that mindfulness led to improved executive functioning because of improved inhibition abilities. Another study was done in 2017 that showed mindfulness in the workplace can increase the number of contract hours employees worked.
11| Lower Turnover and Burnout Rates
There is much research to support the idea that mindfulness can aid in the prevention of employee burnout and turnover within companies. In 2014, Dane and Brummel studied the relationship between mindfulness and turnover intention. The results found that employees higher in mindfulness were less likely to leave their jobs for any reason.
In 2012, Goodman and Schorling found that mindfulness-based stress reduction led to reduced work-related burnout while also improving the mental health of the healthcare providers being studied. Research conducted among Australian psychologists further supported these theories by demonstrating a strong positive link between mindfulness and burnout. These studies and others like it, including a 2015 study by Schultz and his colleagues, shows that mindfulness can enhance well-being within the work environment and contribute to lower levels of burnout for employees in a range of careers and positions.
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. ~ Buddha
12| Improved Immunity
Mindfulness can be a powerful aid for the immune system when practiced regularly. This is thought to be because mindfulness aids in the reduction of stress and anxiety.
Prolonged stress is linked to decreased immunity and various negative health outcomes such as raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, and increased inflammation among other things.
Mindfulness boosts immunity by decreasing stress and anxiety which would lead to the health issues that would negatively impact immunity. Thus, we become better able to ward off pathogens and disease within the body.
13| Less Reactive
Mindfulness-based therapies have been shown to increase the concentration of grey matter in parts of the brain linked to emotional regulation, among other things. Mindfulness also reduces the size of the amygdala which is the part of the brain linked to the flight-or-fight response.
Both of these things means a reduction in anxiety leading to a more calm processing and responding to events. Additionally, one is less likely to fall into negative or harmful emotional patterns and is more mentally resilient.
14| Better Relationships
Since mindfulness is linked to improved mood (i.e. reduced stress and anxiety), enhanced awareness, and improved communication, a natural by-product of those benefits is better interpersonal relationships.
When we can be more present, more calm, and more effectively communicate our feelings, needs, and wants we are in a better position to form meaningful connections with others.
We can spend quality time, engage in active listening, and enjoy positive relationships because there is decreased likelihood of emotional reactivity. Evidence supports this by showing a positive correlation between higher levels of mindfulness and more meaningful and satisfying romantic relationships.
15| Enhanced Creativity
Enhanced levels of creativity is also believed to be a benefit of mindfulness practice. Research shows that mindfulness sessions improve focus which can lead to increased creativity in individuals and groups.
Also, the ability to problem-solve and analyze is enhanced as a result of mindfulness which is thought to increase capacity in the rest of the brain so that additional cognitive processing can occur.
Being mindful means that we suspend judgment for a time, set aside our immediate goals for the future, and take in the present moment as it is rather than as we would like it to be. ~ Mark Williams
16| Better Sleep
Mindfulness has been shown to help improve both the length and quality of sleep. This is because mindfulness induces feelings of calm and promotes release of stress and anxiety, allowing the body and nervous system to unwind and enter into sleep.
Additionally, evidence suggests that mindfulness is a viable alternative treatment for chronic insomnia meaning medication may not be needed in some cases as a treatment option.
17| More Efficient And Effective Recovery
Mindfulness can also be beneficial when it comes to recovering from illness and injury. A study looking at MSBR n Chinese breast cancer survivors found evidence to suggest that mindfulness enhanced post-traumatic growth while also decreasing stress and anxiety within cancer patients.
A similar study of young breast cancer survivors found that women who practiced mindfulness had higher chances of experiencing decreased stress and rumination, and increased levels of self-kindness.
Other research goes on to show that mindfulness and practices that incorporate mindfulness like yoga and meditation can decrease anxiety, increase vigor, and lead to post-traumatic growth in breast cancer survivors.
The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are moments when we touch one another. ~ Jack Kornfield
18| Decreased Risk of Alcoholism
Mindfulness can be an effective tool in curbing drinking that can lead to alcoholism. Mindfulness has been shown to help people deal with the stress and anxiety that may prompt drinking, especially in the college-aged population, thus reducing the tendency of individuals within this group to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism.
A study on drinking among college students found that those practicing mindfulness and proficiency in awareness and non-judging were engaged in much lower rates of problematic drinking.
Additionally, it’s been seen that mindfulness enhances self-control and vitality which further aids in one’s ability to avoid harmful drinking behaviors.
19| Improved Memory
There is also research to show that mindfulness can benefit memory and recall of information. Lloyd, Szani, Rubenstein, Colgary, & Pereira-Pasarin found that just 3 minutes of a mindfulness session could lead to immediate improvements in memory performance. Additional evidence goes on to suggest that such a session could also reduce false recall of information as well.
20| Increased Lifespan
Mindfulness plays a large role in reducing stress, and stress is known to be linked to reduced immunity and increased rate of aging which can reduce lifespan. This is because stress increases the rate at which telomere breakdown and cell breakdown happens.
Mindfulness helps us better cope with stress thereby keeping protective telomeres healthier for a longer period of time. Research shows this impacts mental and physical aging as well because of the delays in cell breakdown.
21| Less Biased
The practice of mindfulness works to help build one’s ability to be less judgmental and more objective. Research in the field of psychology supports this with one study showing that mindfulness led to reduced racial and age bias in participants.
This suggested that mindfulness had the ability to penetrate subconscious biases which related to older views and automatic associations from the past.
The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little. ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
22| More Self-Kindness
Evidence shows that mindfulness has the capacity to quiet the inner critic residing within all of us. Mindfulness teaches individuals how to cope with stressful life events and negative feelings in a healthier and more loving way.
This helps us to be less critical of ourselves and has been shown to increase motivation, improve relationships, and lead to better health. Additionally, there are decreased incidences of anxiety and depression and a greater sense of satisfaction with life overall.
Mindfulness And Happiness
As it turns out, there is a link between the practice of mindfulness and the feeling of happiness. There are several studies which confirm the role mindfulness plays in our perception of happiness.
When mindfulness is practiced, it alters our perception of the events around us and causes us to view them from a more optimistic and hopeful perspective. In turn, this leads to increased feelings of happiness. Such results have been observed in people identified as having low mood, generalized anxiety, and even depression.
A 2020 study showed that when mindfulness training was given to patients diagnosed with diabetes, their levels of happiness increased and their blood glucose levels were better regulated.
The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
A 2014 study showed that even when the mindfulness intervention is technological it can lead to improvements in mood. The study, which involved an intervention using a smartphone app, showed drastic improvements in wellbeing and happiness.
Harvard researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert completed the world’s largest study on human happiness. Their study revealed that happiness is achieved when we are present in the moment, an outcome that can be achieved when mindfulness is practiced as mindfulness is linked to higher levels of awareness.
The study also found that when the mind wanders, unhappiness is present. Their research revealed that the average person’s mind wanders 47% of the time, leading to high reports of unhappiness.
These results revealed how mindfulness can add value and increase happiness. When we practice mindfulness, we become more present people whose minds wander less. The ability to be more focused helps us feel happier and achieve a greater overall sense of fulfilment and wellbeing.
A separate Harvard study looked at how mindfulness can help the brain become more attentive and focused. The study reported that “brain cells use particular frequencies, or waves, to regulate the flow of information in much the same way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies.
One frequency, the alpha rhythm, is particularly active in the cells that process touch, sight and sound in the brain’s outermost layer, called the cortex, where it helps to suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations and regulate the flow of sensory information between brain regions.” In this study, participants took part in a mindfulness program that lasted eight weeks.
When the program was complete results showed that those who finished the program made quicker and more pronounced attention-based adjustments to the alpha rhythm than the control group.
This supported the idea that it was in fact possible to train the mind to be more attentive via mindfulness.
Cultivating Mindfulness: The How To
So, you’ve decided that mindfulness is worth the investment of time- but how exactly do you go about it? There is no one-size-fits-all for practicing mindfulness.
Some of the foundations and cornerstones of mindfulness include.
- Non-judgmental attitude
- Being patient
- Trust in oneself
- Letting go
Formal And Informal Practices Of Mindfulness
Both formal and informal ways exist in the practice of mindfulness.
- The formal avenues are meditations, typically those that structured and may be guided on unguided.
- The informal practice of mindfulness is that which can be practiced daily throughout your life, and mainly means to live in the present moment, to detach oneself from the past or future and submerse themselves in the activity, emotions, and entire experience of any given moment of the day.
As opposed to the way most people go through their day, completely out of touch with the present, focusing or worrying about the past or future, engaging in ruminative thinking and in general on auto pilot, mindfulness provides the opportunity to notice, be present and engage each moment as it comes.
For example, the activity of eating a meal. Instead of gobbling up food without attention while watching TV, mindful eating means focusing solely and completely on very single bite including its smell, taste, texture and how it looks. Focus on each bite you take. Notice the color of the food, pay attention to its smell. When taking a bite let the flavors hit your taste buds, chew slowly and really taste the food. Notice its taste, is it salty? Sweet? Sour? Chew slowly. Savor every bite. Remain focused through your entire meal. This is a great example of mindfulness in action.
Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience. ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Basic Mindfulness Meditation
The concept of basic mindfulness meditation is to sit quietly and focus attention on something such as a mantra or your natural breathing pattern. While doing so, allow your thoughts to come and go without attaching judgment or meaning to them and continue to focus attention on the mantra or your breathing. To engage in basic mindfulness meditation, try the following exercise:
- Sit straight up in a chair or cross-legged on the floor
- Focus on an aspect of your breathing such as the rise and fall of your stomach as you inhale and exhale
- Once you’re focused on this aspect, widen your focus to include awareness of other breathing sensations such as the flow of air from your nose and out of your mouth
- Continue to widen your focus to include other sensations, sounds, and eventually your thoughts
- Embrace and consider each thought without judging and attaching negative or positive meaning to them
- If your mind strays or races, return focus back to your breathing
- Gradually widen focus and expand your awareness again until you’ve reached a comfortable place and you’re ready to close the exercise
Mindfulness that includes body sensations involves noticing subtle sensations in the body such as itching or tingling and allowing the sensations to pass without attaching judgment or meaning to them. A mindfulness body sensation exercise could include scanning the body from head to toe and noticing every sensation present without assigning judgment to it.
Mindfulness that focuses on sensory elements means noticing those things that align with the five senses- sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. A mindfulness sensory exercise might include naming each sense and drawing awareness or attention to those things that fall into each category without attaching judgment to them.
Mindfulness with an emotional focus allows emotions to be present without judgment. A mindfulness exercise with an emotional emphasis would include naming various emotions such as anger, frustration, or joy and practicing staying calm, relaxed, and steady during the practice. The goal being to accept the emotions without judgment and then releasing them.
Urge surfing is a mindfulness practice used to help people cope with cravings and is mainly used for addictive substances and behaviors. An urge surfing exercise would involve noticing how the body feels when a craving arises, then replacing the desire for the craving to disappear with the conscious knowledge that it will eventually subside.
Perfecting The Practice
It is important to note that the practice of mindfulness is just that, a practice. It takes time to “master” and even then, you can always learn and grow. As you practice mindfulness it’s important to pay attention to the following:
You have to be okay with whatever comes up when you are practicing mindfulness. As various sensations, thoughts, and emotions arise they may be positive or negative. The key is not to become reactive or assign judgment to them, rather to observe them and release them fluidly.
Awareness is essential to mindfulness practice. Paying attention to external sensations without attaching to a particular sensation, emotion, or idea that may arise is key. Rather, the goal should be to be attentive to whatever arises and notice the feelings and thoughts those ideas cause so as to develop deeper levels of understanding.
An exercise for assisting with staying in the present and developing greater levels of awareness is as follows:
- Draw attention to your body sensations
- Breathe in through the nose, allowing the stomach to expand fully
- Breathe out of the mouth
- Pay attention to sensations of each inhale and exhale
- Continue this focus on your breathe deliberately and slowly
- Fully engage each sense one by one so as to take in each sense slowly and deliberately
- If your mind begins to wander draw your attention back to the sensations of your breath
At times, this process can seem very involved and it can fail to be relaxing. You might also feel frustrated as you notice you frequently lose focus in the beginning. However, the key to getting better and more comfortable is to stick with it. Eventually it will increase self-awareness and aid in overall satisfaction and happiness.
We have only now, only this single eternal moment opening and unfolding before us, day, and night. ~ Jack Kornfield
How Mindfulness Enhances Personal Growth
When implemented consistently, mindfulness can play a valuable role in enhancing personal growth. Mindfulness adds value by enhancing awareness, reducing reactivity, improving performance, boosting creativity and resilience, and decreasing anxiety and depression. Each of these benefits can be linked to enhanced personal growth.
When you are more aware, you have a deeper understanding of those thoughts, ideas, and emotions that rest behind your actions. This enhanced awareness helps you see those things that may be contributing negatively or positively to your growth and empowers you to make changes as needed. Reducing reactivity means greater control over emotions and a decreased likelihood to respond poorly to situations and events that may arise.
This enhanced level of emotional control sets you up for enhanced success. Boosted levels of creativity and performance combined help you reach your goals and your full potential.
When you are able to be more creative and more productive, you can accomplish more and achieve more and move closer towards becoming a more whole and more fulfilled version of yourself.
Decreased levels of anxiety and depression also promote personal growth because they no longer act as barriers stopping progress due to physical, mental, or emotional health deficits. Rather there is freedom to pursue goals, achieve more, and discover more about self without limitations that might stunt progress.
When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves. ~ Jack Kornfield
Mindfulness can be an incredible asset when practiced consistently and intentionally. The conscious practice of becoming more aware of the moment and the present while also learning to free yourself from judgement can lead to a host of benefits for the physical, mental, and emotional body.
Benefits such as improved performance, enhanced resilience, decreased stress, improved relationships, less reactivity, and even improved overall health can all stem from mindfulness practice. Research shows that a session as short as 3-minutes can improve mental and emotional health almost instantly.
Thus, making mindfulness a practice you intentionally implement on a regular basis can prove to help you and those around you in significant ways. Mindfulness should certainly be considered as a practice for generating life changing results.
Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it. ~ Buddha
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