Most of us, in the hustle of day-to-day life, miss the state of 'mindfulness' in our being. In the rush to fulfil our daily necessary tasks, we do many things at a time, which in turn has turned us into masters of multi-tasking.
While the ability to multi-task has been great and helpful in many ways, it does not always do us good when it comes to our health (both physically and mentally). It can even affect our relationships.
Mindfulness can be defined as a state of active, open attention on the present without distracting your mind to other things, and accepting it without judgement. Scientifically, mindfulness has been found to be a key element of happiness.
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment. Mindfulness is now being examined scientifically and has been found to be a key element in happiness.
To lead a blissful life, it is important to practice mindfulness no matter how busy we are.
Research on mindfulness has identified several benefits, below are some of them: Stress reduction: Many studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can be a great tool in reducing stress. Mindfulness can help cut your body’s cortisol levels, which quickly lowers stress on a neurochemical level. Practicing mindfulness can also help you get rid of internal resistance.
Improves physical health: Mindfulness has many health benefits. It is good in treating fatigue, sleep issues, cancer, headaches, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, weight issues, asthma, low immune function, allergies, skin problems, arthritis, etc.
Improves mental and emotional health: Mindfulness can play an important role in the treatment of a number of problems including- anxiety, depression, unhappiness, discontent, worry, fear, rumination, low self-esteem, shyness, etc.
Improves relationships: Practicing mindfulness can help build a healthy relationship between partners. With the everyday tension interfering in the couple's life, using mindfulness can improve your relationship as it helps you both focus on each other. Mindfulness can help you recapture some of those feelings as you are solely concentrating on your partner and the moment. Hence, by avoiding other thoughts like office work, household chores, etc, but purely focusing on moments between you and your partner, it will help you both feel special about the time spend together.
There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment. All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation.
Basic mindfulness meditation – Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.
Body sensations – Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
Sensory – Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
Emotions – Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.”
Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
Urge surfing – Cope with cravings (for addictive substances or behaviors) and allow them to pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters. Replace the wish for the craving to go away with the certain knowledge that it will subside.
Mindfulness can be cultivated through mindfulness meditation, a systematic method of focusing your attention.
You can learn to meditate on your own, following instructions in books or on tape. However, you may benefit from the support of an instructor or group to answer questions and help you stay motivated. Look for someone using meditation in a way compatible with your beliefs and goals.
If you have a medical condition, you may prefer a medically oriented program that incorporates meditation. Ask your physician or hospital about local groups. Insurance companies increasingly cover the cost of meditation instruction.
Getting started on your own
Some types of meditation primarily involve concentration—repeating a phrase or focusing on the sensation of breathing, allowing the parade of thoughts that inevitably arise to come and go. Concentration meditation techniques, as well as other activities such as tai chi or yoga, can induce the well-known relaxation response, which is very valuable in reducing the body’s response to stress.
Mindfulness meditation builds upon concentration practices. Here’s how it works:
Go with the flow. In mindfulness meditation, once you establish concentration, you observe the flow of inner thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judging them as good or bad.
Pay attention. You also notice external sensations such as sounds, sights, and touch that make up your moment-to-moment experience. The challenge is not to latch onto a particular idea, emotion, or sensation, or to get caught in thinking about the past or the future. Instead you watch what comes and goes in your mind, and discover which mental habits produce a feeling of well-being or suffering.
Stay with it. At times, this process may not seem relaxing at all, but over time it provides a key to greater happiness and self-awareness as you become comfortable with a wider and wider range of your experiences.
Above all, mindfulness practice involves accepting whatever arises in your awareness at each moment. It involves being kind and forgiving toward yourself.
Some tips to keep in mind:
Gently redirect. If your mind wanders into planning, daydream, or criticism, notice where it has gone and gently redirect it to sensations in the present.
Try and try again. If you miss your intended meditation session, you simply start again.
By practicing accepting your experience during meditation, it becomes easier to accept whatever comes your way during the rest of your day.
Cultivate mindfulness informally
In addition to formal meditation, you can also cultivate mindfulness informally by focusing your attention on your moment-to-moment sensations during everyday activities. This is done by single-tasking—doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. As you floss your teeth, pet the dog, or eat an apple, slow down the process and be fully present as it unfolds and involves all of your senses.
Exercises to try on your own
If mindfulness meditation appeals to you, going to a class or listening to a meditation tape can be a good way to start. In the meantime, here are two mindfulness exercises you can try on your own.
Practicing mindfulness meditation
This exercise teaches basic mindfulness meditation.
Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and your ideas.
Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
Invest in yourself
The effects of mindfulness meditation tend to be dose-related — the more you do, the more effect it usually has. Most people find that it takes at least 20 minutes for the mind to begin to settle, so this is a reasonable way to start. If you’re ready for a more serious commitment, Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends 45 minutes of meditation at least six days a week. But you can get started by practicing the techniques described here for shorter periods.
Learning to stay in the present
A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. You can choose any task or moment to practice informal mindfulness, whether you are eating, showering, walking, touching a partner, or playing with a child or grandchild. Attending to these points will help:
Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.
Now breathe out through your mouth
Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation
Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation
Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.