We often rush around being busy and getting stressed and we only take a breather when we are close to getting overwhelmed. We move through our lives mostly unaware of our surroundings and our feelings as we are focused on doing as much as possible. However, this leads into high stress and illness, or a so called burnout. Instead of this unhealthy mode of functioning, we can try practicing mindfulness which has proven to be highly beneficial for our health.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an awareness of what is going on inside and outside of us on a moment to moment basis. It is the full presence of our consciousness in the present moment. When we are mindful, we are observing our internal world and the external world with full concentration, without moving our attention to different times and places. Thoughts will come, but we observe these thoughts and let them pass without identifying ourselves with them.
How does it benefit us?
Studies have shown that mindfulness is beneficial to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Simply put, when we steer our attention to the present moment, we don’t worry about the future or regret about the past, and thus avoid negative feelings. Automatically, stress is decreased as our autonomous nervous system is not being triggered. We also tend to breathe deeper and calmer when we are present and this impacts our blood pressure positively, our digestion, our sleep and even how our heart works. It has been found that mindfulness helps with depression and many other mood disorders, as well as with substance abuse.
How to do it?
There are many ways to practice mindfulness as there are many meditation techniques that bring us into presence, but here are a few simple exercises to get you started.
- Breath: Sit up straight and take 3 conscious breaths in and breaths out. Bring your attention to the present moment and observe your breath. Just follow your breath, as you breathe in, pause, and as you breathe out. If your attention wavers and you drift away, gently bring your attention back and continue. The time you can stay present will increase with practice.
- Sensations: Repeat the steps from exercise 1, only instead of your breath, focus on the sounds you hear in your environment. At first you might not notice anything, but stay present with it. Listen for the sound of your breath, your swallowing, the hum of the computer, birds outside, a car passing by. Just identify the sounds and move on from one to the other. Don’t allow anything else into your awareness.
- Naming actions: As you go about your day, just bring your full attention to whatever it is you are doing at that moment and name the action. For example: “I am washing my hands, I am closing the tap, I am wiping my hands, I am opening the bathroom door, I am turning the light off.”
If you want to engage in a more formal practice of mindfulness, taking up a meditation course would be a good idea. There are many kinds, find the one you feel comfortable with. Having a meditation instructor will help you advance more quickly. Tai chi and yoga are meditation combined with movement so they help keep you fit as well. There are some rehabilitation courses you could take to get a comprehensive knowledge of practices used for mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness is an ancient technique that is needed today more than ever it seems. Taking just small steps in becoming more aware of our lives will brings about a big change in our daily experience. The sense of serenity and joy will increase as we learn how to see and appreciate moments.