From the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, can you recall how many decisions you made that were conscious? You listen to music while working out or showering or cook while talking to your friend. How different do you think these activities would be if you were to practice mindfulness and be present in the moment?
In this article, I will explain what mindfulness is, what its benefits are, and why you should practice it.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the psychological state of being attentive or conscious of the present moment. It is about being aware of your thoughts and emotions as they come up without judging them.
When you are mindful, you develop insights as to who you really are. Once you are aware of the motifs and drives that make up your inner world, you will be able to identify the pain points that impede your growth.
Jeffery R. Martin in his 1997 research paper, defined mindfulness as
“a state of psychological freedom that occurs when attention remains quiet and limber, without attachment to any particular point of view.”
Rosenbaum & Dyckman (1996) associated mindfulness with
“disidentification with any permanent sense of self”.
Mindfulness has its roots in eastern philosophies where it is linked to the state of awareness experienced during meditation. In psychotherapy constructs, it is understood as being aware of the reflective state of the mind. However, it is not only restricted to that. It also includes being aware of the rise and fall of these reflective states by merely observing them.
Why is it important to be mindful?
It is essential to be mindful because your brain practically runs your life in autopilot mode. The neurons in your brain form a network called the default mode network that regulates actions based on past behaviors. And unless you are conscious of your actions and decisions, you are technically being run like a program.
This conscious process of being aware will help you develop insights into the functionings of your mind.
In addition to psychological benefits, practicing mindfulness have a number of physiological benefits as well. After all, a healthy mind is a necessary prerequisite for a healthy body.
5 simple ways to practice mindfulness
Cultivating mindfulness may seem difficult at first considering that our minds are accustomed to wandering especially with the advent of technology. In fact, we are so habituated to distractions and a fast-paced society that slowing down sometimes almost feels like a crime. Success, in today’s world, has become synonymous with being busy.
However, cultivating mindfulness is not unachievable. In reality, it is like any other habit that you are trying to cultivate. The more you practice it, the more it comes naturally to you.
Following are 5 simple ways to practice mindfulness:
1. Practice Meditation:
The effects of meditation cannot be stressed enough. It calms your mind and makes you aware by increasing your observation skills. In Vipassana practice, mindfulness is cultivated by bringing awareness to your body, its sensations, emotions, thoughts and the environment.
You can start by practicing meditation 10 minutes per day. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and listen to either music frequencies that cultivate awareness or take up a guided meditation. Ideally, as a fresher to this, I’d recommend the latter. And do not forget to breathe deeply while meditating since this is crucial for becoming aware of the present moment.
2. Hone your Observation Skills:
Good observation skills can be defined as one’s ability to use all five senses to be fully aware of the moment. We, however mostly use only two senses in a given situation. When you learn to observe your surroundings, you learn the art of being non-judgemental. Since your mind is not busy attaching meaning to the situation, consequently you become mindful.
To become more observative, you have to consciously cut out distractions and increase your focus and concentration. When you are a newbie to this, you have to consciously work on restricting your mind from wandering off. With regular meditation being observative will eventually flow to you naturally.
3. Practice active listening
Active listening is the process of mindfully listening to the other person, i.e., giving the other person your complete attention. A good active listener is one who is neutral and non-judgmental, gives verbal or non-verbal feedback, and asks questions to show that he/she is interested.
To become an active listener, it is indispensable that you stop daydreaming. As long as your internal dialogue is active, you cannot fully concentrate on what the other person is saying. The idea is to take a genuine interest in the other person. When you are genuinely interested, the more likely it is that you will remember the contents of your conversation. Practicing this on a regular basis will help you be more present in the moment and become mindful.
4. Listen to your heart
The heart is much more than a blood-pumping organ. In 1991, Dr. J Andrew Armour discovered that the heart has a little brain of its own. It has an intricate nervous system much like that of the brain consisting of 40000 neurons. The heart and brain constantly exchange information with the heart being the epicenter of emotional and intuitive signals that govern our decisions.
When you are aware of your emotions – the way you feel on a day-to-day basis, you will start to feel in touch with yourself. And as you realize where these emotions stem from, you will get better equipt at regulating them. This will in turn increase your awareness and make you more mindful.
5. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude means being thankful and appreciative for what you have. Gratefulness is one of the highest states of vibration as it is a state of being in harmony and at peace with yourself. It is the secret to a happy life that you hold in your hands but which you often do not realize.
You can practice gratitude by being appreciative of all things positive in your life. When you focus on the positives you stop contemplating about what has not worked for you. This state of emotion brings you back to the present moment which in turn creates the conditions required for constructing a positive future.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
There are numerous benefits of practicing mindfulness for improving your physical and mental well-being backed by a number of scientific evidence. Following are five benefits of mindfulness:
1. Improves emotional regulation
Emotional regulation is the ability to manage your emotions effectively. Most of us have this awful habit of rumination where we continuously ponder about things that we cannot change.
Research suggests that practicing mindfulness meditation decreases rumination by disengaging the connection in our brains of repetitive cognitive activities. In a particular research conducted by Chambers et al., in 2008, the effects of mindfulness meditation were studied on various factors like mindfulness, rumination, affect, and performance tasks for attention switching, etc. It was found that 20 meditators who participated in the 10-day mindfulness meditation retreat had higher mindfulness and lower rumination compared to a waitlisted control group.
2. Decreases reactions and increases responses
Reacting is a phenomenon that we all have been a victim of at some point or the other when we do not think clearly. Mostly you react when you let your ego come in the way of your response. Needless to say, reacting has many downsides.
There are various researches that demonstrate how mindfulness increases cognitive flexibility and makes one less reactive. This is because when you are mindful, you develop the skill of self-observation that breaks the neurological automatic patterns and instead promotes adaptive response to stressful or negative situations. This means rather than responding in ways we would normally do, we begin to respond as per the demands of the situation.
3. Improves interpersonal relationships
The fact that mindfulness promotes responsive behavior has many positive implications in enhancing the dynamics of relationships. Barnes et al. in 2007 found that the higher the mindfulness in an individual, the lower is the emotional stress experienced by them in response to relationship conflict. They were also found to be more receptive to conflict discussion and displayed less anger and anxiety. Higher mindfulness was also positively linked with relationship satisfaction, ability to respond constructively to relationship stress, ability in identifying and communicating emotions to one’s partner, etc.
4. Reduces mental health problems
The root cause of many mental health problems is the fact that either people negatively associate, cannot identify, or accept their problems. Many psychotherapy measures use mindfulness meditations to cure a number of problems like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc. The use of techniques like IBMT (integrative body-mind training), amplifies the part of the human brain that regulates behavior. It brings about positive neurological changes that make one resilient to mental health problems.
5. Increases attention and concentration
It is indeed a challenge for many to stop their minds from getting distracted especially while performing boring tasks. Many studies show that meditation thickens the cerebral cortex in our brains responsible for memory and concentration.
Recent research in the journal of Psychological Science suggests that meditation increases focus even for the most boring tasks. In another study, 60 people signed up for a meditation retreat for three months. They were divided equally into two groups wherein one group was the control who participated in the retreat post three months. After the retreat, both groups were asked to take up a boring test on a computer where they had to click their mouse when they saw a line that was shorter than others. Results showed that those who meditated were more likely to identify the shorter lines compared to individuals of the control group.
Concluding Thoughts on Why to Practice Mindfulness
This is a busy and distracting world; a world where concentrating and paying attention has become nothing less than a struggle. Practicing mindfulness is one of the most effective and easiest ways to alleviate these struggles arising mainly from ineffective emotional regulation and unhealthy reactions to life situations. Not only did mindfulness prove effective in reducing mental health problems but it also showed promising effects in promoting physical well-being in effect.
However, it requires your dedication to inculcate mindfulness as a part of your life. To start, dedicate at least 10 minutes of your day to practice mindfulness by picking any of the methods mentioned in this article as a daily activity. Like any exercise, the more you practice it, the more naturally it will come to you and in no time, you will become a mindful person.