What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness was popularized in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., whose scientific career focused on mind and body interactions in healing, and clinical applications of traditional Buddhist principles of mindfulness and meditation training for people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders. As a result of his research and work with patients Kabat-Zinn developed a flexible approach to reducing stress called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program. MBSR is a technique and healing approach aimed to help individuals deal with anxiety, stress and chronic illness. Typically, MBSR is an eight-week program guided by a trained instructor who teaches and guides participants through mindfulness-based stress reduction strategies such as meditation, deep breathing and yoga. Through the eight-week program participants in a group setting develop knowledge, skills and practices to be with themselves in a mindful, non-judgmental way, which then makes it easier to practice mindfulness daily on their own without the support of the group.
Moment-to-Moment AwarenessWhile having the support of the MBSR instructor and the group can be very helpful it is not necessary in developing an effective mindfulness practice and experiencing its benefits daily. Simply put, the goal of mindfulness practice is to bring oneself to the present moment. Through practicing mindfulness you develop a state of active, open, non-judgmental attention focused on the here-and-now. This helps you experience your current emotions, behaviors, and physical sensations just the way they are and become aware of your current thoughts and feelings. This state of non-judgmental presence helps you become aware of the reasons why you are feeling certain emotions and how your body reacts to such state of mind. This way, with acceptance and non-judgment you are more likely have empathy and compassion for yourself (and others). In addition to non-judging, attitudes of mindfulness practice also include: patience, curiosity and openness of beginner’s mind; trust in ourselves, our intuition, and our own path; non-striving with an intention of creating space for simply being who we are; acceptance of things are they are in the present (which reduces the energy drained by denying, suppressing, or resisting what already is), and letting go of our attachment to particular thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Living life in the present moment can quickly bring positive results. Individuals, who apply mindfulness techniques to their daily routine and everyday actions and thoughts, generally report a higher quality of life and having more thoughtful days. According to research the benefits of mindfulness are countless. Mindfulness practice increases ability to relax, helps reduce pain levels, improves self-esteem, decreases emotional reactivity and helps effectively cope with stressful situations, generates optimism, improves ability to focus attention and suppress distractions, boosts working memory, reduces ruminations, and increases capacity for empathy and compassion. Studies have also shown that in youth practicing mindfulness helps reduce aggression, decreases ADHD symptoms, improves sleep, helps copying with anxiety, expands capacity for self-awareness and compassion. Benefits of living life mindfully can also improve work life by increasing effectiveness in dealing with complex situations, having more clarity, increasing creativity, and building resilience. Proven benefits of mindfulness also include improved parenting skills, reduced binge eating and obesity, increased copying with trauma and PTSD symptoms.
Examples of Mindfulness Practices
5-minute Mindful BreathingMindful breathing is getting out of the head and tuning in to the breath. Focusing your attention at the belly is a particularly effective way of grounding yourself and connecting to inner calmness and balance in the face of emotional upset, when you have you have a lot on your mind or when you just want to relax. When you focus your breathing down in the belly you are tuning in to a region of the body that is far away from the head, and thus far below the agitations of your thinking mind. Belly breathing is the single fastest way to calm down. It can help to make mindful breathing a regular practice as it is then easier to do it in difficult situations.
1. Find a comfortable position. Sitting upright or even lying down is most comfortable. Your eyes may be open or closed, but you may find it easier to maintain your focus if you close your eyes.
2. Focus your attention on the physical sensation of your breath, the inhale and the exhale. Feel the natural flow of breath. Nothing more. There is no need to control it, your body knows how to breathe very well. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time.
3. Notice and feel into your body. Without judgment notice the weight of your body, become curious and connect to its sensations, the touch, the points of connection between your body and your clothes, the floor, the chair, etc.
4. Practice self-compassion and kindness. As you breathe and feel into your body you may find that your mind wanders, distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That is perfectly normal and okay. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath. Practice for 5 minutes.
5. Before ending your practice offer yourself a final check in with your body and your mind, and offer yourself a moment of appreciation and gratitude for this breathing practice today.
Calming Breathing in Stressful SituationsWhen trying to calm yourself in a stressful moment, it may help to start by taking an exaggerated breath: a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds). Repeat this pattern of breathing: inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds) until you calm down. Observe each breath without trying to adjust it; it may help to focus on the rise and fall of your belly or the sensations in your nostrils. As you do so, you may find that your mind wanders, distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That is perfectly normal and okay. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
Mindful Eating The purpose of mindfulness is to bring you into the present moment. The point of mindful eating is to dedicate your attention to the experience of eating. This is a meditation on the present moment, and the present moment consists of you eating a meal. Avoid engaging in any other activities. Put away the newspaper or book. Turn off the TV or radio, and remain quiet whenever you enjoy your mindful meals. 1. Take a look at the food in your hand. Notice the colors, notice its shape. Feel the weight of it in your hand. 2. Take a moment to take a deep breath with the food near your nose so you can take in the smell of it. Notice if you mouth is starting to water. 3. Now take your first bite. Listen to the sound. Notice how it feels on your teeth and let it linger on your tongue so that you can really pay attention to the taste, even before you start chewing. Enjoy the taste of the food filling your mouth. 4. If your mind wanders off, then bring your attention back to the experience of eating. Become aware of the experience of eating the food, moment-to-moment. Mindful Listening When you are having a conversation with someone you can also practice mindfulness. Sometimes you may feel impatience when other people are talking. Sometimes it may be enthusiasm to share a similar story. Other times you may notice how while the other person is talking, your mind is busy thinking of solutions or advice for them, or you are not even listening to them at all thinking about something completely unrelated.When we actually listen, we are less likely to misunderstand someone and to have an argument. We are more likely to walk away from a conversation feeling energized rather than frustrated. When we listen well, we solve problems more quickly and feel less stressed. To listen mindfully: 1. While the other person is talking, pay attention to your breathing. You can notice the thoughts that are going through your mind as they are speaking. Practice being patient without interrupting. 2. Notice any feelings within yourself as you are listening without interjecting your experiences. Wait, breathe, and listen. 3. Notice any sensations in your body as you are listening. The idea is to listen with your whole self, to be fully present without the need to change, solve, or fix anything. 4. When the person is finished talking, you may want to respond with a comment that shows the speaker that you have heard them. This kind of response might encourage them to talk even more, building confidence and trust in your relationship. We all need and appreciate being heard. It is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another. There are countless ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life and all your daily activities from waking up in the morning to letting go and falling asleep at night. Mindful morning: When you wake up in the morning, allow yourself some slow, mindful breaths before you get out of bed. See if you can be aware of your breathing and of making the transition from sleeping to waking. Be aware of the sound, the quality of light, or the darkness. Feel each in-breath calm your body and mind, and each out-breath release any tension or thoughts you're holding. Mindful moments: Several times during the day (e.g. every time you walk through a doorway) allow yourself to become aware of your breathing and recenter yourself by becoming aware of your breath and your body. Connect to your breath and to your body in and curious and accepting way. Let go of any judgment. Mindfulness at bedtime: As you go to bed and prepare for sleep, take some mindful breaths, become aware of the bed supporting you. Feel the muscles of your body relaxing as you sink into your bed. Let go of the past day's activities and of your anticipation of tomorrow. See if you can allow a smile to appear on your face as you become grateful to yourself for this mindful moment of self-awareness at the end of the day. Resources: Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living. Bantam Dell Publishing Group.https://www.mindful.org/https://www.mindfulschools.org/I also used knowledge and experiences gained during mindfulness-based stress reduction program workshops at https://www.theinsightcenter.com/. - Kamila Smyk, Psy.D.