What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is becoming fully aware of every moment in regard to who we are, our feelings, our breath, thoughts, circumstances, the environment and our body. It is simply living fully in the moment by becoming willfully conscious and building awareness.
Mindfulness Practice is : “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Mindfulness means living in the present moment and accepting it the way it is without any resistance. Thus, living fully without judging self, people or situations. For example, you may ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ a person due to their habits. When you practise mindfulness you accept people in your lives exactly the way they are. You start accepting – by understanding where they are coming from rather than imposing what you want. Rather than trying to form judgements on what you ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ – when you don’t’ get affected by what the other person says or does – you become mindful. Thus, you may not agree with the other person, yet refrain from trying to change the other person unless they are willing to. Sounds impossible! It is not really so once you understand why and how.
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present. Aware of where we are and what we’re doing. Not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
According to Steven F. Hick, “mindfulness practise involves both formal and informal meditation practices and nonmeditation-based exercises.”
Why Become Mindful?
You can become Mindfulness in various ways, which will be discussed in the latter part of the article. The first step is to understand how will you benefit from mindfulness. It helps you become aware of the root cause of your problems and how to solve them. “You must look inside and understand your mind by systematically focusing attention on it. Then you will understand what causes your problems and resolve them.”
Most importantly, mindfulness doesn’t only benefit you physically; as per clinical research, it also has various psychological and social benefits.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?
I. Alters the Brain
Mindfulness generates new nerve cells in the brain – reversing the ageing process of the brain. It increases new neurons and grey matter associated with feeling, noticing and sensing. It boosts frontal activity in the brain. Therefore, improving rational thought, intentional planning, emotional awareness and impulse control.
II. Cultivates Happier Relationships
Isn’t it frustrating when your partner in a relationship is forever checking texts or messages or worrying about work? Mindfulness is the answer to this issue. It changes areas of the brain linked to attention and focus. Thus, making you get out of auto-pilot mode and be more present to help build intimacy and a happier relationship.
As per studies, your emotional regulation area in the brain alters with just 8-10 weeks of mindfulness meditation. The amygdala inside the brain is responsible for “flight, fight or freeze” mode. It happens when we see our partners as threats making us emotionally close-down as soon as we connect with them. Mindfulness reduces the size of the ‘amygdala’, therefore reducing its ability to react to feeling threatened. It helps spouses or partners to “get out of negative cycles of destructive arguing or emotional distancing.” Mindfulness meditation improves the prefrontal cortex and its connection with the amygdala by sending a message that all is well and there is no need to run away from a situation.
III. Mindfulness Improves Mental Health
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy has been developed to prevent relapse of depression cases. Mindfulness helps break away patterns of negative thoughts responsible for going in a state of depression. Moreover, it builds the ability to fight depression before it overtakes completely.
IV. Helps you Handle Emotions with Ease
As you become aware you are able to notice the sensations in your body. Your body always gives you signs of your emotional state and being mindful helps build awareness. It helps us look at your own self, others and situations from a different perspective. As a result, you are able to detach yourself from your instant response to a person or situation. You are able to express your emotions in a state of mind where you are calm rather than reacting in flight or fight mode.
V. Mindfulness Cures Anxiety
Mindfulness combats anxiety by teaching us how to respond to stress by using awareness rather than just react without thinking. Thus, you build awareness of the emotions and the reason you are anxious. Therefore, teaching you adaptive reactions to difficult situations.
“What worries you masters you.”
VI. Boosts Concentration
Studies on Neuro images indicate mindfulness to increase the activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) of the brain. It is an area involved in the brain’s attention. Mindfulness improves control on attention. With the result, you can focus on the task at hand much easier and reduce distraction considerably caused by worry.
By the simple act of focusing on the present moment, mindfulness helps to counteract over-thinking and worrying. Thus mindfulness helps increase focus on the present moment. As a result, it helps you concentrate and become more productive.
VII. Develops a Healthy Body
Mindfulness reduces the stress hormones in your body. Thus it brings down the cortisol level further reducing the blood pressure for a healthy body. Being mindful is also responsible for healthy eating habits. For example, developing mindfulness helps you eat mindfully and not mindlessly. You start eating mindfully by noticing the colours, textures, smell, flavours of the food and also end up eating slowly. Therefore, you enjoy the food you eat and feel satisfied by consuming lesser amount than eating mindlessly.
VIII. Makes you Compassionate
Mindfulness alters ‘Insular Cortex’ in our brain is associated with emotions like empathy, compassion, perception, self-awareness and interpersonal experience. Through compassion, we understand the other person’s perspective and emotions. Therefore you tend to understand the reason behind what the other person is saying or doing. Thus, you find it easier to approach another person without the need to control or judge. It helps you communicate with compassion and also you are able to express your emotions freely. “Mindfulness creates an approach, rather than an avoidance mindset”.
IX. Decreases Bias or Prejudice
As per a study conducted – a short mindfulness training was conducted. At the end of the study it was observed; unconscious bias against black people and elderly citizens got reduced. In another study when ‘loving-kindness meditation’ was practised – it brought down the biased opinion towards people who were homeless. In a third study conducted by Adam Lueke – white participants underwent a short mindfulness training. Thereafter, they showed lesser biased behaviour towards participants who were people of coloured origin while playing a trust game.
Mindfulness reduces our negativity bias, as a result, we are “less wary of negative social encounters”. This is so, because “mindfulness impacts our emotional reactivity to negative stimuli.”
Mindfulness decreases self-positivity bias. Thus, it is another manner in which it enhances social relationships.
“By reducing the correspondence bias, negativity bias, and self-positivity bias, mindfulness can help us have better relationships with others—including those who look and behave differently.”
X. Builds an Energetic Workplace
Any workplace is gauged by the energy levels the people and place have in it. Some days are happy and bright – however, some days could you could be running on empty batteries. Vitality is key to accomplishing tasks while you enjoy your work at the same time. A scientist studying on mindfulness motivation says – “Continuing to stay focused and mindful is likely to have a positive effect on your vitality.” It is so because you are aware of the objective of your work. For those of you who have clarity on your goals – you are more likely to work towards achieving them – since your vitality is high.
XI. Imparts Emotional Wellbeing to Students and Teachers
Do you know, 75% of all mental health disorders arise within the tender age of 24 years? Therefore, early intervention is the solution to check this. We teach our kids to stay hygienic, eat well and keep fit, but often we overlook to teach them how to keep their minds healthy.
As per research conducted in Australia in 2016, 12 schools, 1853 students and 104 teachers participated with the aim to evaluate how 8 weeks of mindfulness program will affect them. Mindfulness was taught and practised thrice a week for 8 weeks. The results were astounding. In the end, it turned out to be beneficial for both teachers and students.
Teachers experienced the following:
- Were better able to express and deal with emotions
- Felt marked reduction of stress and tension levels
- Improved wellbeing
- Boosted concentration and sleep quality
Students who were emotionally at-risk experienced:
- Lesser psychological stress
- Higher positive and emotional wellbeing
- Better ability to manage emotions
- Increased levels of concentration
- Better sleep patterns
- Lesser incidents of bullying and disruption in classrooms
Thus, mindfulness leads to student engagement in learning. Also, students experience emotional wellbeing. Moreover, it increased over the period of time by continued practise of mindfulness.
XII. Helps Prisoners
As per studies, prisoners feel reduced mood swings, hostile feelings and less angry when their awareness is increased through mindfulness. It is done by raising awareness in regard to their emotions, feelings and thoughts. Ajahn Brahm a Buddhist Monk in Perth Australia is known to cure prisoners during their rehabilitation and reintegration process by teaching them mindfulness.
“Be STILL, the Quieter you become, the More you can hear.”
XIII. Teaches the ability to Develop Self-Knowledge and Wisdom
According to Bishop, et alia, mindfulness is, “A kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centred awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.” As per Buddhist teachings, you can learn how to understand the nature of your mind. Thus, you are able to make sense of your own ideas, feelings, taste and experience. It helps you develop yourself by gaining knowledge and wisdom.
XIV. Mindfulness Helps us Love Ourselves
Mindfulness has a direct influence on our self-image. People who are more mindful tend to have higher self-esteem and behave as per their values. They indulge in self-love and remain happier in the security of living with a raised self-image. Thus, over-criticism or negativity doesn’t affect them as they become more resilient and are content with who they are.
“Wherever you are, be there fully.” – Eckhart Tolle
Being present and living in the moment and practising Mindfulness is not easy. We often get overwhelmed by worrying about the future or sad or regretful thoughts on the future. It deters us from enjoying the present moment called – NOW! After having read the various benefits of Mindfulness I am sure you are charged up to practise mindfulness. Well, you could start with simply smiling by doing random acts of kindness, creating a cue to be mindful. Be grateful for the little things like a coffee break rather than spend time in how difficult your boss was before the break. Become aware of what signs your body is giving you. Learn mindfulness meditation by starting small 15 mins practic. Thus, over a period of time, you will realise how soon you will feel energised and a better person be it at home, work or in a relationship.