1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
2. a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental practice where we attempt to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of ourselves and our experience as we exist in the present moment. Rather than allow our head to become intertwined in the ebb and flow random thoughts, feelings, and sensations, we become intentional observers of ourselves as we attempt to fully experience life around us. Make sense?? Let's consider another explanation of mindfulness by the original founder Jon Kabat-Zinn (UMass) mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. When focusing on our breath, we learn to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is in the moment.
In practice, mindfulness creates an alignment with the mental, emotional, and physical parts of ourselves in real-time, allowing us to be fully present in life. From this perspective, we can begin to cultivate a space where we allow life to happen for us rather than to us. Given that many of us expend a lot of mental energy allowing our minds to "forecast" uncertainty about the future (something that we can never know) or ruminating in the past (something that we can never change) mindfulness finds the sweet spot - the present space that exists in between. When we redirect our minds toward remaining in the present we can experience life as it is; in the very present moment.
Why is Mindfulness Important?
There is substantial evidence that shows mindfulness positively impacts our physical, psychological, and emotional well-being. In one particular study, participants reported experiencing a significant increase in positive emotions and a decline in negative emotions following eight weeks of practicing mindful-based exercises.
Additionally, there is a wide body of research that demonstrates how mindfulness benefits us in the following areas (and this is just a short list!):
Improves cognition by increasing brain functioning such as learning, memory and emotion regulation
Increases awareness, focus, attention, and decision-making skills
Strengthens the immune system; lowers blood pressure and heart rate
Lowers anxiety and improves depression
Increases our capacity for empathy and compassion
Enhances our ability to feel more connected with others and in our relationships
Impacts how we perceive ourselves by increasing confidence and self-esteem
How Do You Practice Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways but to truly benefit it’s important to find mindfulness-based exercises that work for you and can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. At a basic level, you can experiment with mindfulness by trying on one of the following 3 observations.
Pay close attention to your breathing – pay particular attention to your breath along with the rise and fall of your chest with every inhale and exhale.
Notice how you experience yourself within any given moment; how are your thoughts, feelings, and or body sensations influenced by the space you are in.
In any given moment, use your 5 senses and bring your attention to what you can touch, see, hear, feel taste and smell.
How did you do? What another go? See the Raisin Experience below...
What's the raisin for that?
The “raisin” experience is a great exercise for beginners. In this exercise, the raisin is only used as an example so any small item of food will work just as well. Start with an item of food that can fit in the palm of your hand, a piece of gum, a slice of fruit, a cracker, chocolate or raisin. Now, follow the steps below:
Take a moment to really examine the raisin. Imagine as if you’ve never seen a raisin before. Quietly in your mind, describe what you see by taking a closer look.
Next, draw your attention to how the raisin feels in your hand? How does it feel when held between two fingers? What do you notice when you place pressure on the raisin? When you press it between two fingers? What does the texture feel like?
Next, cup the raisin between two hands and take a moment to smell the raisin…How does it smell? Sweet? Bitter?
Now place the raisin on your tongue (be sure not to bite down or chew it) How does the raisin taste?
Finally, bite down on the raisin and chew it…what flavors and textures do you notice or experience on your palate?
The raisin experience is used to introduce beginners on what it’s like to simply focus on a single object as it sits in the palm of the hand, right in front of you and in the present moment. With our busy lives, we have forgotten the importance of taking time to slow down and truly notice what is right in front of us.
1-Minute Mindfulness Exercises
Interested in trying out mindful meditation but don't have the time? It's important to remember that mindfulness is a practice and can be accomplished in just a few minutes. Here's a resource that includes ways to incorporate 1-minute mindfulness exercises that you can try out anytime and anywhere. See this article posted at PschCentral.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.
And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain. Mindfulness is available to us in every moment, whether through meditations and body scans, or mindful moment practices like taking time to pause and breathe when the phone rings instead of rushing to answer it.
Still Not Convinced?
Here are some additional articles that cite the evidence as we know it.
New Research on Mindful Meditation (Mindful.org) February 20, 2020
When Science Meets Mindfulness (The Harvard Gazette) April 9, 2019
The State of Mindfulness Science (UC Berkley) December 5, 2017