What is Mindfulness? And What it is Not
Mindfulness is a tool that has become exceedingly popular recently. Only a few years ago the general public would not be familiar with the term, whereas today it’s something we hear about all the time in a range of different contexts.
In some ways this is a good thing: mindfulness is a great tool to be aware of and it can be used to greatly improve your concentration, awareness and happiness. But at the same time, it’s also a bad thing: because it has been misappropriated in many instances and many people don’t actually really understand what it means anymore.
With that in mind, let’s take an in-depth look at what mindfulness is and what it isn’t – and how you can start using it to improve your life.
Mindfulness is often used to describe a type of meditation. Specifically, ‘mindfulness meditation’ is a type of meditation that involves reflecting on the contents of your own mind and how they might be affecting you. Whereas the point of some forms of meditation – such as transcendental meditation – is to completely ‘empty’ your mind, the point of mindfulness is instead to simply detach yourself from your thoughts and become an observer.
This way, you can prevent them from affecting you in the same way and you can also gain a greater understanding of the contents of your own thoughts. Often this is described as ‘watching the thoughts go past like clouds’. The idea is not to engage with them or let them affect you but simply to observe them and to later reflect on how they might impact on your happiness.
By doing this, mindfulness allows us to take some time out of our stressful day to remove ourselves from our thoughts and thereby get some rest and relaxation. But it’s not really just about meditation.
What mindfulness also means is being constantly aware of your own thoughts as you go throughout your day. Some people will tell you to be ‘mindful’ of your body, or ‘mindful’ of your environment. But really what you should be focussing on is just what you’re mindful of.
Next time you go out for a nice walk with family, or next time you do something else that you should be enjoying, just make a note of whether you’re really focussed on what you’re doing and whether you’re actively engaging in it… or is your mind elsewhere? Are you actually worrying about work? Or stressing about other things?
Mindfulness teaches us to be more aware of our thoughts as that way, we can decide that we’re not going to let them affect us and because that way we can then make the conscious effort to refocus and to decide to be happy.
Mindfulness is not mysticism or linked to religion and it’s not a cure-all therapeutic technique. All this is a tool and better yet, a state of mind. With practice, you can learn to be more in-tune with your own thoughts and that can change everything.
Who Can Benefit from Mindfulness Training?
The answer to this question is a bit of a no brainer! Everyone can benefit from mindfulness training! If you are someone who rushes frantically from place to place, is always on the go, has a never-ending to-do list, and is prone to high anxiety, then you can benefit from mindfulness.
If you are a corporate executive working twelve-hour days, with meetings and responsibilities, and you are really burnt out but you keep on going, to the point where actually, you are a bit of a workaholic and your family life is beginning to suffer, then you can benefit from mindfulness.
If you are a busy stay-at-home mom, or a working single mom, or a married and working single mom, you can definitely benefit from mindfulness. CEO’s, students, retirees and really anyone can also benefit from mindfulness. No matter what your role in life, or what your circumstances, you can definitely benefit from mindfulness. Even if you have it all, feel happy and content, and have a wonderful partner, children and everything the way you want it, YOU can still benefit from mindfulness!
Mindfulness Helps Being Aware
Mindfulness is an ancient practice that emphasizes being aware of each moment as it passes, keeping you focused on the present and reducing out of control thinking that keeps stuck in the past, ruminating over and over about the way things were, or perpetually in the future, worried and anxious about possible scenarios which haven't happened yet.
Essentially, mindfulness helps us to become more “present” to our lives, more present to what is actually happening right now, rather than being fixated on fantasies, dreams or obsessions. By staying in the present moment our lives become more real and we begin to live more authentically.
The upshot of this is that we have a more positive, richer, and deeper experience of life and all the exquisite beauty that life has to offer. This leads to feelings of contentment and inner peace, and helps us connect better with others around us, thus improving our relationships!
Seriously, everybody needs mindfulness training!
What happens is, as we become more aware of the present moment, the mind loosens its tight grip on its fear-based preoccupations, and this sends the message to the para-sympathetic nervous system that all is well and it can begin its work of calming the body down so that relaxation can ensue. It is very simple to do, you do not need to purchase any special equipment, and just about anyone can do it.
The easiest way to get started is to become aware of your breathing:
It is useful if you have been diagnosed with ADHD, if you have autism, bipolar disorder or any other diagnosis of mental illness. It is helpful if you are suffering from chronic pain, from stress, anxiety, depression, or serious physical illness, for instance cancer.
Mindfulness can keep your thoughts off your problems and stressors pains and keep you living a life of fullness, even when faced with adversity. In short, mindfulness is good for your physical, mental and emotional health! Try it today!
Mindfulness Improves Your Quality of Life
You have probably heard about mindfulness, right? You know it's something Buddhist monks do and it is kind of like meditation and you know it's supposed to be good for you. Right? But how good for you is it really and how exactly can you benefit?
First, let us look at what mindfulness actually is, and then we can explore the five ways it can be helpful to you on a day-to-day basis. You are right in thinking that mindfulness is a form of meditation. It is, to put it quite simply, the art of paying attention to what is happening in each moment. Or, at least, to one aspect of what is happening in each moment.
For example, take a moment now just to focus on your breath…
Breathe in. Notice the cool air coming in through your nostrils. Now breathe out, and notice the warmer air coming out through your nostrils as you exhale. Now, do this a few more times. You have just practiced mindfulness! How did it feel? What did you notice?
Of course, there is no right or wrong answers but besides becoming aware of the experience of breathing (something we do not generally do in the rush of our stressed-out lifestyles), you may have noticed that your habitual “racy” thoughts subsided, and there may have been a few moments of still, quiet, peacefulness.
Do not judge yourself if you did not have these positive feelings. Just accept the experience without labelling it “good” or “bad.” Non-judgment is the most helpful spirit in which to practice mindfulness.
Focus on Your Breath
Those moments of quiet, still peacefulness would in fact be benefit number one. Mindfulness will help you to experience more peacefulness in your life. Some Buddhists suggest you give the “monkey mind” a job, i.e., to focus on the breath. Now that the crazy little monkey has a job, the thoughts can quieten and calm down. This allows you to feel peaceful. In turn, your brain waves slow, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and your body relaxes.
Relaxes Your Body
Mindfulness causes your body to relax. In a study where participants practiced mindfulness for just five minutes a day over a three-week period, it was found that there were increased reports of stress reduction, more positive relationships with others and “mastery of one's environment”.
Break Out of Unproductive Thoughts
You can become focused on one task at a time. This will allow you to be more productive and accomplish more without being exhausted from the many stressors we deal with every day.
Mindfulness helps us to break out of our habitual unproductive thought patterns, which may include anxiety, fear and other forms of negative thinking and it allows us to be “present to what is.”
In being present we experience a sense of spaciousness and awareness of the moment and in that spacious awareness we slow down, yet paradoxically we can get more done, and more efficiently too.
Mindfulness Increases Happiness
By being mindful, we can let go of the past, avoid getting caught up in worries about the future and we can appreciate the joy inherent in each moment: we can smell the scent of a beautiful flower; we can savor a delicious meal, enjoy the feel of the wind on our face, and so on. Mindfulness also allows us to experience much deeper connections with others. We can be more present to them and experience our relationships more fully.
Mindfulness Improves Your Physical Health!
As far-fetched as this sounds, there is plenty of science to back this up. Studies have found that mindfulness can
What are you waiting for?
How to Use Mindfulness to be Happier
Mindfulness can mean a great many things depending on who you ask. Essentially this is a tool and like any tool, it can be used in numerous different ways. Specifically, mindfulness can be used to change what we focus on and to change the way we think. Too often we don’t pay attention to what’s going on inside our mind and that makes us victims of our emotions.
We can be in a beautiful place doing fun things with friends, only to find ourselves thinking about work and getting stressed – not actually enjoying the situation we’re in. Likewise, we can have everything we could possibly want in life and not be happier. And it all comes down to what we choose to focus on. This is why you can use mindfulness, among other things, as a brilliant tool for making yourself happier and more at ease with your life.
Gratitude Attitude in Your Daily Life
Sometimes this is referred to as a ‘gratitude attitude’. All that effectively means, is that you’re putting yourself in a state of mindfulness where you’re focussing on the things you’re grateful for and you’re happy for. And one very easy way to do that is simply to take a time out at the end of each day to write down those things and to think about them.
Try and end every day by writing three things that you’re thankful for and reflecting on them. Where possible, try to make these different things each day and avoid repetition.
Sometimes these will be obvious things: like your health, like the people you love and like the fact that you have access to food. Focussing on the people you love in particular is a great way to be more grateful to people and this can end up actually improving your relationship with them.
But at the same time, you’re also going to think about those smaller silly things.
Be Grateful for What You Have
Maybe you’re grateful for the delicious cereal you’ll have tomorrow? Maybe you’re grateful for the fact that there’s a new film coming out that you’re very excited about? These are all legitimate things! Now try to carry this mindfulness over into your daily life.
Each time you think of something you don’t have, or that isn’t the way you want it, try to think as well about the things you’re grateful for and what you do have. Don’t have that big flat screen TV? Well just be grateful you have a computer that can watch pretty much any film you can dream of on demand.
Likewise, you should try and think about and be mindful of language and the way you talk – which can have a big impact on your gratitude as well as on the way that other people think about you. For example, trying to stop complaining is something that is very worthwhile. The next time you find yourself saying anything negative, try and follow it up with a positive point that counteracts it. You’ll feel happier and people will think of you as a more positive person they want to be around!