What Is Mindfulness
When people hear the word mindfulness, they can imply the practice has something to do with the mind, but many people don’t know or understand much more beyond that. Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of intentionally focusing attention on the current moment and embracing that moment free from judgment (Firestone, 2013).
“Wherever you are, be there totally” – Eckhart Tolle
It involves paying attention to what is happening in the mind, body, and the surrounding environment, and approaching those things with both curiosity and compassion.
The practice of mindfulness bolsters awareness of thoughts, sensations, and feelings while also improving our ability to cope. In general, mindfulness leads to enhanced mental clarity, a greater sense of well-being, and better ability to care for self and others.
Evidence suggests the practice of mindfulness has been in existence for thousands of years as a part of various religions and secular traditions. Mindfulness has been practiced by Hindu and Buddhist religions, within yoga, and among other non-religious meditation.
In the US, mindfulness is historically linked to Jon Kabat-Zinn who first introduced mindfulness as a student at MIT. Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, adapted the Buddhist teachings that he had learned on mindfulness to develop his stress reduction and relaxation program, which is now called “mindfulness-based stress reduction.”
Kabat-Zinn linked mindfulness to science more than Buddhism and his integration of Western science, mindfulness has become a popular practice here in the United States (Surban, 2020).
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath” – Amit Ray
Mindfulness And Happiness
As it turns out, there is a link between the practice of mindfulness and the feeling of happiness. There are several studies which confirm the role mindfulness plays in our perception of happiness.
When mindfulness is practiced, it alters our perception of the events around us and causes us to view them from a more optimistic and hopeful perspective. In turn, this leads to increased feelings of happiness. Such results have been observed in people identified as having low mood, generalized anxiety, and even depression.
A 2020 study showed that when mindfulness training was given to patients diagnosed with diabetes, their levels of happiness increased and their blood glucose levels were better regulated.
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness”
A 2014 study showed that even when the mindfulness intervention is technological it can lead to improvements in mood. The study, which involved an intervention using a smartphone app, showed drastic improvements in wellbeing and happiness (Sutton, 2020).
Harvard researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert completed the world’s largest study on human happiness. Their study revealed that happiness is achieved when we are present in the moment, an outcome that can be achieved when mindfulness is practiced as mindfulness is linked to higher levels of awareness.
The study also found that when the mind wanders, unhappiness is present. Their research revealed that the average person’s mind wanders 47% of the time, leading to high reports of unhappiness.
These results revealed how mindfulness can add value and increase happiness. When we practice mindfulness, we become more present people whose minds wander less. The ability to be more focused helps us feel happier and achieve a greater overall sense of fulfilment and wellbeing (Mindfulness.com, 2019).
A separate Harvard study looked at how mindfulness can help the brain become more attentive and focused. The study reported that “brain cells use particular frequencies, or waves, to regulate the flow of information in much the same way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies.
One frequency, the alpha rhythm, is particularly active in the cells that process touch, sight and sound in the brain’s outermost layer, called the cortex, where it helps to suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations and regulate the flow of sensory information between brain regions.” In this study, participants took part in a mindfulness program that lasted eight weeks.
When the program was complete results showed that those who finished the program made quicker and more pronounced attention-based adjustments to the alpha rhythm than the control group.
This supported the idea that it was in fact possible to train the mind to be more attentive via mindfulness (Cho, 2016).
Cultivating Mindfulness: The How To
So, you’ve decided that mindfulness is worth the investment of time- but how exactly do you go about it? There is no one-size-fits-all for practicing mindfulness.
Some of the foundations and cornerstones of mindfulness include.
* Non-judgmental attitude
* Being patient
* Trust in oneself
* Letting go
Formal And Informal Practices Of Mindfulness
Both formal and informal ways exist in the practice of mindfulness.
* The formal avenues are meditations, typically those that structured and may be guided on unguided.
* The informal practice of mindfulness is that which can be practiced daily throughout your life, and mainly means to live in the present moment, to detach oneself from the past or future and submerse themselves in the activity, emotions, and entire experience of any given moment of the day.
As opposed to the way most people go through their day, completely out of touch with the present, focusing or worrying about the past or future, engaging in ruminative thinking and in general on auto pilot, mindfulness provides the opportunity to notice, be present and engage each moment as it comes.
For example, the activity of eating a meal. Instead of gobbling up food without attention while watching TV, mindful eating means focusing solely and completely on very single bite including its smell, taste, texture and how it looks. Focus on each bite you take. Notice the color of the food, pay attention to its smell. When taking a bite let the flavors hit your taste buds, chew slowly and really taste the food. Notice its taste, is it salty? Sweet? Sour? Chew slowly. Savor every bite. Remain focused through your entire meal. This is a great example of mindfulness in action.
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience” – Jon Kabat-Zinn