Mindfulness is when someone focuses their attention on the present moment – what they are seeing, sensing, and feeling – without any judgment. It has been proven to help with many mental health and emotional disorders as well as some physical problems.
In the past decade, it has really gained in popularity. But mindfulness is an ancient practice that people have been doing for thousands of years.
Most of the mindfulness methods popular in the Western world today are derived from Hinduism and Buddhism. But it was scientist, writer, and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn who significantly introduced it to the West in the 1970s with his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts to treat chronically ill patients.
Since then it has really spread as a form of therapy. This is due to an increasing number of medical and mental health experts noticing its great success in helping with various physical and emotional problems.
Be here now
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as: “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.”
Spending time thinking about the past, planning for the future, making decisions and choices, problem-solving, or drifting away in your head to somewhere other than where you are can be a mental and emotional drain on us.
Not being in the present moment and keeping it in the day, one day at a time, is also more likely to lead to anxiety, stress, and depression. Mindfulness helps us to move away from this sort of thinking and be there in the world around us.
This also helps us learn to observe our thoughts, which is an invaluable skill to have. Many people don’t realize that we always have a choice over which of our thoughts we pay attention to at any time.
If we focus on negative thoughts we will experience negative feelings. Then this is likely to lead to more negative thoughts as we try to understand why we feel so bad.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness teaches people how to ignore negative thoughts and beliefs. This allows for more space for positive thoughts, which create positive feelings and so boost energy levels. Life is overall much better.
Mindfulness has helped with many physical and mental health problems, including:
- Stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- High blood pressure
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders
- Sleep disorders, including insomnia
What mindfulness methods are there?
We all have the ability to be mindful. But there are some methods that have helped many people.
Here are four popular mindfulness techniques:
Start to slowly walk from a quiet spot. Put your attention fully on this experience of walking and continue for about 20 feet. Feel sensations and observe sounds, such as what noise there is as your feet touch the ground and then the sensation in the soles of your feet. You can spin round and walk back if you wish, staying mindful of every step.
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and palms facing upwards. Now pay attention to every part of your body, starting from your scalp and slowly work all the way down to your toes. As you run down your body, notice any sensations and feelings you have in each part. As well, be observant of any thoughts you might have about any body part as you focus on it.
It doesn’t actually need to be a raisin, any food will do. Put it in front of you and note how it looks, feels, what happens if you squeeze it, what smells it has, and finally be fully aware of its taste. As with other types of mindfulness, imagine that you’re seeing or experiencing something for the first time. It helps to look at how children are when they see something for the first time – that joy, excitement, and inquisitiveness.
Sit with a straight back with both feet flat on the floor and hands resting in your lap. Now while breathing through your nose, focus on every breath that moves in and out of you. Do this for five minutes or more, and also note how your chest rises and falls with each breath.
Mindfulness: how frequently and when?
Mindfulness can be practiced at any moment and anywhere. Many people find that outdoors among peaceful nature is best, although it can be done in a busy urban area too.
As with the location, when you practice mindfulness is up to each person. Many people have discovered that first thing in the morning is the most beneficial time to do it and the best way to start every day. Try for five minutes at first and work up to a longer time, whatever you feel is helping you.