Mindfulness is the simple human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing. It allows us to take control of situations and not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Now this may seem like an simple task, but being engaged 100% doesn’t come easy, especially in our world of distractions.
So, it means actively listening and not zoning out (even a little) when your co-worker tells the same story for the third time, and it means using all your senses in even mundane situations like washing the dishes or walking to the bus stop.
Though it has its roots in Buddhist philosophy and religion, as it is considered very important for the path to enlightenment. A secular practise of mindfulness has entered the international mainstream in recent years, in part through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which he launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Since then, thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general and MBSR in particular, inspiring countless program to adapt the MBSR model for schools, prisons, and beyond.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.
"It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour," he says.
A few scientifically proven benefits of mindfulness:
- Mindfulness can also help alleviate stress through improving emotion regulation, leading to a better mood and better ability to handle stress (Remmers, Topolinski, & Koole, 2016).
- In a study on the impacts of mindfulness on the psychological and physical health of obese or overweight adults, researchers found that mindfulness helped participants lose weight, improve their eating behaviours and attitudes, and decrease depression and anxiety (Rogers, Ferrari, Mosely, Lang, & Brennan, 2017).
- A study on mindfulness and health showed that mindfulness is related to improved cardiovascular health through a lower incidence of smoking, more physical activity, and a healthier body mass index (Loucks, Britton, Howe, Eaton, & Buka, 2015).
At its core, Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
The 4 steps to mindfulness: to the breath
- Listen to your breath
- Now this may sound irritatingly cliché, but there is scientific rational for this advice. Not only is breathing a powerful indicator of someone’s state of mind, but it’s also a helpful modulator.
- By consciously feeling just three breaths move in and out of your body, you’re able to slow down the exhalation to help trigger your bodies relaxation response.
- Use your surroundings
- Since you don’t need any gadgets or gizmos, you can do mindfulness anyway. Take moments in the day to disconnect from the flurry of to do lists and direct your attention externally by tuning in to your senses.
- How exactly? Well, listen to the sounds in the room, feel your body in space, focus on the space around you, notice the temperatures and smells. By tuning in to your senses, just for a few moments, you give your mind a micro-break from the stress of thinking.
- Use technology with awareness
- Sitting at a computer all day? Bring awareness to your posture and breath. It has been noted that email apnoea - the temporary suspension of breathing while dealing with emails - means we are inadvertently creating stress in the body. When we breathe irregularly, the bodies becomes acidic through the retention of excess carbon dioxide. This throws off our bodies oxygen balance, which helps keep the immune system strong, fights infections, and mediates inflammation.
- Use your lunch as a mindful practise
- Rather than eating whilst working, or missing out on lunch altogether, use your lunch as a way of practising mindfulness. In other words focus on eating, intentionally taste your food, bring awareness to chewing. Now this may sound weird, but it will give your mind an opportunity to rest from the whirlwind of the day.
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
HOW TO MEDITATE A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE
Begin by finding a comfortable position, either sitting on a chair or a cushion on the floor, or even lying down. Gently close your eyes. Take a moment to get in touch with how your body is feeling. Notice the areas of contact your body makes with the chair or the ground. Your feet resting flat on the ground, your legs supported by the chair, your hands resting comfortably in your lap.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
Take a deep breath in and gently let it go. Take another deep breath in, and let it go. Allow the breath to float in and out in its natural rhythm – not trying to control it or change it in any way.
Focus Your Attention
Rest your attention on the breath as it flows in and out from moment to moment. Feel how your lungs expand with every breath in and contract with every exhale. Notice the quality of the breath in this moment. Is it relaxed or restricted? Long or short? Notice as air moves in and out of the nose. When you notice your attention has been carried away by thoughts, simply let go of the thoughts and gently direct your attention back to the sensations of the breath in the body.
Calmly Return To Your Day
When you’re ready, gently open your eyes. Carry this mindfulness into the rest of your day.