You’re rushing through the world around you, but when last did you stop and smell the roses or look up at the sky? When last did you take a few minutes before entering a room to pause and focus on your breath?
Mindfulness is a practice we should all do on a daily basis to help us connect to our inner selves and the world around us.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be explained as being fully present in the moment. While it might sound easy to do, it can actually be quite difficult at first!
Calming your mind and placing your attention on certain things can be difficult because our thoughts can be intrusive.
Mindfulness, therefore, takes a bit of practice, but it has many benefits which make it worth doing on a daily basis.
What Are The Benefits Of Mindfulness?
Mindfulness isn’t some out-there practice – there’s been much research conducted on it to show that you can benefit greatly from incorporating it into your life. Let’s explore its benefits.
It alleviates anxiety and stress
Since mindfulness helps us to respond to stressful situations with greater awareness of what is occurring in the world around us and our inner selves, this can help us to combat feelings of anxiety.
It’s also useful in managing and reducing your stress levels. Research has found that when you practice mindfulness the grey matter in your brain’s amygdala becomes smaller.
This is important because this area of the brain plays a role in stress.
In addition, mindfulness increases connections between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, which is beneficial because it will make you less reactive to stressors in your life and it will enable you to recover better from stress if you can’t avoid it. It relieves pain.
Research has found that mindfulness can help to reduce chronic pain. In the study, researchers took brain images of participants who had mindfulness as a treatment for their pain.
It was found that their brains displayed less activation in areas associated with managing pain messages.
It improves your memory
In a study, mindfulness meditation was monitored in various groups – a military group that took part in an eight-week course on mindfulness, a non-meditating military group, and a group of non-meditating civilians.
The results showed that the non-meditating military group had less working memory capacity over time, whereas the meditating military group’s working memory capacity increased over time.
It makes you less emotionally reactive
Being able to control your emotions and not be reactive is a skill that can benefit your whole life.
A study of people who had between one month and 29 years of mindfulness meditation found that this practice helped people to disengage from pictures that were upsetting and focus on other tasks better as compared to people who didn’t meditate.
It makes your relationships healthier
Mindfulness has been found to have many benefits for your relationships.
Research has found that mindfulness can protect against stress associated with relationship conflict. It’s also linked to being able to better express yourself in various situations.
It makes your body healthier
You can use mindfulness to make yourself physically healthier. One study found that mindfulness has a positive impact on health behaviors, such as by increasing your willingness to get regular checkups and encouraging you to be more active.
Another study from the same source also found that mindfulness boosted cardiovascular health, as a result of the positive changes it encouraged, such as by helping you to lose weight and be more active.
It’s clear to see that mindfulness can cause a positive ripple effect to make you healthier and stronger. Can Mindfulness Help You To Lose Weight?
We’ve already mentioned how a mindfulness practice can help you to start new habits in your life that can benefit you by boosting your health and helping you to lose weight. But, it can also aid in weight loss in a much deeper way.
This is because of how your brain’s patterns are more responsible for your weight gain than your stomach.
Your brain remembers when eating something delicious makes you feel good and so it will search for similar foods when you are feeling stressed.
When you respond to those cravings, you strengthen the connection the brain has made and this is what causes you to end up in an unhealthy food habit.
Now, mindfulness helps you to build the prefrontal cortex in the brain that’s associated with willpower so that you can resist those fatty, high-sugar foods you crave.
Mindful eating can also help you to be more aware of what you’re eating. Here are some tips to consider if you want to lose weight.
- Pay attention to your food. Avoid eating while watching TV as it can distract you and you might end up eating more than you intended. Chew your food well, eat slowly, and savor the food. Be mindful when you eat – focus on the food’s taste, texture, and sensations it produces in your mouth.
- Be mindful of your hunger. It’s important to pay attention to why you’re reaching for food – are you really hungry? Can you feel your stomach rumbling? Or, are you just eating because it’s a habit? By being able to ask yourself these questions, you prevent eating just because you’re bored, lonely, or you’re used to eating at a certain time of day.
- Be aware of your feelings. Be mindful of your feelings and emotions by sitting with them during your mindfulness practice. This will alert you when you’re feeling stressed, lonely, or anxious so that you can target those feelings instead of using them to direct you to the nearest high-sugar treat.
Based on the above tips, it’s clear to see that you can encourage weight loss by being more mindful of your food choices and the emotions you feel that could be behind them.
How To Start A Mindfulness Practice
The great thing about mindfulness is that there are many ways in which you can practice it in your daily life.
Although you might think that mindfulness is difficult for you to do because you battle to clear your mind, mindfulness exercises give you other things to focus on so that you concentrate your attention elsewhere.
It’s a myth to think that you need to dedicate hours per day to be mindful. You can do mindfulness wherever you are and even just five minutes of it per day can help you to be more aware of yourself, your emotions, and the world around you.
Here are some ways in which you can practice mindfulness right now.
Try The “Body Scan Mindfulness Meditation”
This is a popular mindfulness exercise. How it works is that you start by lying on your back with your palms facing up.
Your feet should be slightly apart. If you’d prefer sitting for this body scan exercise, you can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
Remain very still for the entire time but if you find you become a bit uncomfortable you can adjust your position.
Bring your attention to your breathing. Notice how you breathe, the lengths of your breaths, and your breathing rhythm. Don’t try to change or control your breathing, just be aware of it.
Notice the sensations you can feel on your body, such as the feeling of your clothes against your skin, the temperature of your body, and more.
Be aware of the feelings in your body, such as if your back is sore, your head feels heavy, and so on.
Focus on every part of your body, noticing how it feels. Start at your toes, then move up to your feet, then your ankles, then your lower legs and knees, and continue all the way up to the top of your head.
Once you feel you have completed the body scan, slowly open your eyes.
Do A “Mindful Seeing” Exercise
This mindfulness exercise relies on your sense of sight. It can be done wherever you are and it helps you to become more aware of your surroundings.
Find a spot where you can look at the world from a window.
Look for everything that can be seen, but don’t label what you see. Rather notice the different colors, textures, and patterns in what you see.
For example, a pattern that you can see in a beautiful flower or the texture of the clouds.
Imagine that you’re only seeing these things for the first time. Be observant of what you see but don’t be critical of any of it.
If you find that you get a bit distracted, pull your thoughts back to noticing what you see in front of you.
Tune Into Your Thoughts
This is an easy way to practice mindfulness: sit in a comfortable chair and breathe.
Focus on your breathing and be aware of the thoughts that enter your mind. Don’t judge them or try to force them out of your mind.
Simply observe them as if you’re watching them pass in front of a screen, and then allow them to leave.
This might be difficult to do if you’re just starting out with mindfulness, but it becomes easier with time and you’ll feel more comfortable just being without forming attachments to your thoughts or feelings.
Engage Fully In Tasks And Activities
Any task or activity that you do can be an opportunity to become more mindful. Whether you’re driving to work, waiting for a bus, or eating a delicious slice of chocolate cake, you can become more aware of the present moment.
Think about what you’re feeling in your body, be aware of your actions and movements, and if you feel thoughts trying to enter your mind, gently bring them back to the task in front of you.
An example of how you can make an activity more mindful is by being aware when you take a shower.
Think about how the hot water feels against your skin, how the shower gel smells, and the feeling of the soft towel you wrap around yourself when you step out of the shower.
Feel the sense of newness when you’ve completed your shower and are clean, ready to tackle your day. Bask in the feeling!
Take A Few Minutes Out Of Your Day
It’s a good idea to step out of the mindset that mindfulness is something you have to do for 30+ minutes every day.
This puts pressure on yourself to achieve it, and it’s sometimes just not practical. Therefore, it’s better to squeeze in some mindfulness on a daily basis.
Spend a few minutes being mindful of your breathing when you’re driving to work and stuck in traffic. Or, focus on engaging your senses when you take a break between shifts at work.
You can do this by thinking of five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
The great thing about mindfulness and doing it throughout your day is that it enables you to avoid doing chores or actions on autopilot.
It’s said that we do around 95 percent of our behaviors in this state without really thinking about them.
This is why it’s so important to break out of that mental habit or rut and become more aware of what we’re doing and feeling.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
You can also use mindfulness during meditation.
It’s a myth to think that during meditation you stop being mindful or that you always have to clear your mind.
Mindfulness meditation is really about being mindful and aware of your present moment without letting your thoughts wander or emptying your mind.
Mindfulness is a way of being – you’re open to and aware of the present moment. You’re not making any criticisms or judgments of what you’re thinking or the sensations you’re experiencing.
You’re just letting them happen without having any control over you. You’re also aware of where your mind goes. If thoughts enter your mind, you don’t try to push them away. Instead, you gently coax your mind back to a state of observation.
While mindfulness is the awareness of what’s happening in the present moment, meditation is training your attention over time so that it cultivates a sense of mindfulness.
This is how mindfulness and meditation can be connected.
Can Mindfulness Meditation Be Unhealthy For You?
While mindfulness meditation, and mindfulness in general, can offer you many benefits, a study interviewed 100 meditators about the challenges they experience during mindfulness.
They found some interesting results. Many of the study participants reported that they experienced numbness, panic, fear, anxiety, and extreme sensitivity to sound and light.
The researchers found that these reported experiences weren’t limited to people who had preexisting conditions, such as mental illness. It’s clear that more research is required so that we can learn about mindfulness.
When you start a mindfulness practice, be aware of what you feel. Feelings of stress and anxiety could surface, but they might just be occurring in reaction to this new state of being. They will subside as you become more mindful.
Best Mindfulness Books
If you want to start a mindfulness practice, you’ll benefit from reading up about mindfulness.
Here are some of the best mindfulness books to help you gain a deeper understanding of it and what it can bring to your life.
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
If you are starting out as a mindfulness beginner, this book will help you learn everything you need to know about how to apply mindfulness to your days.
The author is known as a mindfulness guru of the modern-day, and his book is filled with explorations of concentration.
Although you’ll get a lot of useful information from this book, you’ll appreciate that its chapters are short. This means you can read a page or two wherever you need a boost of motivation.
The Miracle Of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book explores how what you consider to be boring chores can be the ideal opportunity to foster greater awareness and mindfulness.
Although it’s built on Buddhist teachings, the author excels at using mindfulness with daily examples and practical advice on how to make it a habit in your life.
People who have purchased this book and reviewed it on Amazon have said that it’s a valuable resource for meditation in general.
Unf*ck Your Brain by Faith G. Harper
This book is about more than mindfulness. The author teaches you how to retrain your brain so that you respond to things that happen to you in a more positive way to improve your life.
What’s great about it is that it teaches you how to deal with non-emergencies as well as traumatic events.
The book is valuable because of how it contains humor, science, and loving patience to help you embark on the journey of retraining and mastering your brain.
Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence – The Groundbreaking Meditation Practice by Daniel J. Siegel
This book is written by a neuroscientist, and it explores how science is the foundation of mindful meditation.
It features fascinating information about how awareness changes the way your brain’s neurons behave.
If you want to take the time to study mindfulness, you’ll really enjoy this book. It’s a great resource for beginners as well as people who already follow a mindfulness practice.
Meditation Is Not What You Think by Jon Kabat-Zinn
This is another useful meditation book by Kabat-Zinn. Although the author previously published a 650-page book called Coming To Our Senses, this is the same book re-released as four separate books. Meditation Is Not What You Think is the first one in the series.
This book explores a variety of questions, not just about mindfulness but meditation in general, such as “What is meditation?”, “Why is meditation worth doing?” and “How can you take your meditation practice to a greater level of nourishment if you’re already practicing it?”
It’s also useful to help you learn why meditation is sometimes difficult to do so it will aid you in moving through various obstacles you encounter. The book includes a guided mindfulness meditation to help you get started.
How can you stop yourself from falling asleep during meditation?
It’s useful to sit in a chair instead of meditating while lying down. You can also engage in practices such as walking meditations that will ensure you stay awake.
How can you deal with anxiety and fear that comes up during meditation?
These can be unpleasant to have to face, but it’s useful to direct your focus to something that’s outside of your body.
Remember that you should be gentle with yourself. If you feel that you can’t eliminate the feelings, take a short break.
While you might think mindfulness is the same practice as meditation, the two are actually quite different although you can combine them for a powerful, self-transforming result.
Contrary to popular opinion, mindfulness isn’t something that’s difficult to do because it requires special tools or accessories. You can do it right now, wherever you are and with whatever is going on in your life.
In this article, we’ve looked at how to become more mindful, easy mindfulness exercises you can do throughout your day, and books to jumpstart your mindfulness practice.