What exactly is mindfulness? Although there are many definitions, it’s often considered a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, sensations, feelings and what’s happening in the world around us. It’s a state of being conscious or aware of something in the present moment and calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings. Much like yoga, mindfulness experts agree that mindfulness isn’t something to be achieved – it’s something that must be practiced every day.
Mindfulness meditation offers a number of benefits, most notably helping to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. People at risk for depression are dealing with a lot of negative thoughts, which can easily affect their mood and life. Mindfulness has been shown to help people feel more positive and recognize negative thoughts for what they are – thoughts not facts. Acknowledging these thoughts and letting them go is key to living a mindful life.
How do you start?
Mindfulness is the concept of living in the present, not worried about the past or stressed about the future. You can create a moment of joy and happiness at any time of the day – at work, at school or at play. Begin by recognizing your body’s breathing rhythm and focus on the in and out breaths. Follow your breath all the way through from beginning to end with your awareness sustained and with no interruptions. Each time your mind shifts away from your breath, gently bring it back to your task. As you stay connected with your breath, your breathing will naturally become slower and deeper, providing a sense of calm.
You can implement mindfulness meditation into many daily activities – like walking, during stretching or even at your desk. You can also reap the benefits of being mindful by not taking things for granted – it’s a simple way to incorporate the practice into your daily habits. Appreciating the little things like the softness of a blanket or the smell of a pot of soup on the stove is a way to be mindful. Another way to incorporate mindfulness is to bring your attention to the present moment. Watch your kids play in the yard. Notice the leaves blowing in the trees. Recognize tension in your body and slowly relax tight muscles in your shoulders and face.
Although it’s not well studied, mindfulness has been shown to decrease cognitive decline from aging or Alzheimer’s disease, lower blood sugar and even improve your body’s immune response. We do know this – taking time to slow down and notice the world around you calms your brain and helps you live a more peaceful and balanced life.