Simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life
The topic of mindfulness has been circulating in the health and wellness community in recent years. A simple Google is all it takes to find out how mindfulness can strengthen your relationships, optimise your gut health, revolutionise your sex life, and so on. However, there’s no point in trying to apply mindfulness to your life without understanding exactly what it entails.
Although popular now, mindfulness is no new practice. It stems from early Buddhist teachings reaching as far back as 2,500 years. While it doesn’t necessarily involve the religion or associated social practices, it does borrow from the Buddhist principle of focusing on the now. “Mindfulness is the psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment,” says Clinical Psychologist and Hypnotherapist John Daniels. “The practice leads to one becoming the manager of his or her thoughts and not, as is in many cases, the victim of negativity and ceaseless worry.”
Why is mindfulness so important?
First and foremost, mindfulness is a technique that helps us manage our emotions and levels of stress, anxiety and depression. In our busy Western lives, our minds are often crowded with anxieties concerning work and relationships, not to mention plagued with materialistic pressures that seem to contaminate the very air we breathe. How often do you find yourself thinking about a task you need to get done or dwelling on what someone said throughout the day? We live so much of our lives in the past or the future that we let the present pass us by, and this forms part of the foundation for many mental health issues.
“Increased calmness and mental capacity comes from refusing to allow oneself to time travel to the past where regrets and perhaps depression sits, or to time travel to the future to feed events which probably won’t occur,” says John. “Mindfulness provides periods of focused relaxation which one then brings to their approach to daily life.” When the mind turns to regret or concern, mindfulness can provide much needed relief and peace.
Benefits backed by science
Mindfulness has not only garnered support from spiritual gurus and mental health professionals, but has also generated curiosity among researchers. The studies have supported a wide variety of health benefits, including:
A meta-analysis of 39 studies investigating mindfulness as a technique to minimise stress and as a base to therapy concluded that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underpin a variety of clinical issues. Another study revealed that subjects who participated in mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly less anxiety, depression and somatic in comparison to the control group.
More cognitive flexibility
One study found that people who practice mindfulness meditation seem to develop self-observation skills, which disengages the automatic pathways in the brain created by prior learning and allows stimuli experienced in the present moment to be integrated in a new way. It has also been found that meditation activates a section of the brain that is associated with a more adaptive response to stressful situations.
A study of novice meditators who were asked to attend an intensive mindfulness retreat reported less rumination compared to a control group, along with reduced depressive symptoms, decreased negative affect and showed better working memory capacity and ability to focus.
How do I begin practicing mindfulness?
In more ways than one! You can practice mindfulness through yoga and tai chi, but meditation is perhaps one of the most common disciplines closely associated with mindfulness. “Focus is maintained on the breathing while dealing with intrusive thoughts in a manageable and coherent manner,” says John. “As thoughts intrude, the meditator gets to choose whether he will deal with those thoughts at that time or simply let them go in a calm and peaceful way.”
The process may be simple, but this does not necessarily mean it’s easy. John recommends starting with a guided meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, an emeritus professor of medicine in the United States and a world-renowned expert on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. You can also start by employing simple tactics to help calm your mind anytime, anywhere. Here are three tips to help get you started:
#1 Anchor your attention through breath
One of the most popular techniques to quieten your mind is to focus on your breathing. Breathing is something that remains constant through all the ups and downs of life, and is therefore a good anchorpoint to centre your attention. Concentrate on the air you draw in and expel with each breath, on the rising and falling of your chest. Allow everything else in your surroundings to melt away.
#2 Become aware of the moment
Draw your thoughts to what is happening right here, right now, by directing your attention to your senses and your immediate surroundings. What is the air temperature like? What can you hear? How is your posture? These are the details that often get screened and discarded by your brain, yet remind us of the innate simplicity of life.
#3 Accept what you cannot control
A key pillar of mindfulness is to let go of all judgement, yet this can be easier said than done when it often comes as a natural human reaction. Instead, choose to consciously accept a person, place or experience as it is. Once you realise what is outside of your control, you can stop trying to change it.
You can learn more about John and his services through his website: http://www.psychologyhypnosis.com.au/.