“In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” — Eckhart Tolle
Mindfulness can improve our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Increasing awareness of ourselves and our surroundings is a holistic approach that can help us feel and live better.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to one’s experience in the present moment without judgment. This can include anything from deep breathing to our diet. The purpose is intentional and engaged living versus reactive and disengaged living. It sounds so simple, yet so difficult to do.
Why is it important?
Mindfulness can be difficult with the daily demands of our busy lives – work, school, children, mortgages, illnesses. It just does not seem like a priority. “I’ll do when I have time” is a common response. However, it is in the busiest and most chaotic times in our lives that we need it the most.
Increased cognitive flexibility
People with cognitive flexibility practice “self-observation,” which helps them disengage from automatic thoughts and focus on present thoughts. In addition,regions in their brains associated with faster bounce back from stress were also activated.
Increased working memory
Research on military populations showed working memory improved by practicing meditation.
Enhanced prefrontal cortex functioning
Mindfulness is connected to “self-insight, morality, intuition and fear modulation.” It has also been connected to better immune system and processing speed.
Studies suggest that mindfulness meditation and meditative movement (like that practiced in yoga) may bring brain changes that help ease pain over time.
Increased relationship satisfaction
Mindfulness practices help buffer against emotional stress during conflict in relationships. This has been shown to be correlated with an individual’s ability to communicate his/her emotion during conflict and feel satisfied in the relationship.
Reduced depression and anxiety
Mindfulness helps reduce depression, rumination, negative affect and helps reduce emotional reactivity by learning to disengage during distressing topics.
Increased skills and insight
Mindfulness also has been shown to increase positive affect, working memory, as well as focus and attention.
Mindfulness meditation reduces reactions to stress by decreasing anxiety and negative affect and has been found to help individuals shift their perspectives and emotion regulation strategies.
How can I be more mindful?
Remember, mindfulness is the intentional awareness of the present moment without judgment.
1. Engage in basic breathing.
Breathe in slowly and deeply, focusing on the duration of each breath and its movement throughout your body. Practice any amount of time … from one minute to one hour.
2. Pay attention to your body.
Practice scanning your body from toe to head, searching for any aches or tension, and slowly releasing them. Move your body around – like stretching – while noticing each muscle move. You can even practice progressive muscle relaxation, which is intentionally tensing your body for a few seconds then releasing that pressure and feeling it flow out of your body.
3. Use all five senses.
When noticing your present environment, engage all five senses. What do you see, hear, smell, feel and taste? Often times we rely only on our main sense and forget to utilize the rest.
4. Practice yoga and tai chi.
Yoga and tai-chi are great practices centered on awareness, breathing and being in the present.
5. Turn off the distractions.
With the unending bombardment of stimulation, it can be difficult to unplug and unwind. Spend 30 minutes with no electronics – phone, internet, even music. Reconnect with yourself and your natural surroundings. You may find it difficult at first, but it will become restorative and restful.
6. Allow your thoughts to come and go.
While practicing mindfulness our minds are bound to fill with thoughts about what we have to do next, what’s for dinner tomorrow and did I put gas in my car. That’s okay. We are only human. Don’t get frustrated or pass judgment on the thought. Acknowledge its presence and allow it to pass. Visualize the thought bouncing in and bouncing out.
7. Name those emotions.
When a feeling or emotion surges inside, don’t ignore it, name it. Are you feeling sad, angry, ashamed, happy, excited, content? The more we push aside and bury our emotions, the harder it becomes to know what the emotion is.
8. Prioritize simplicity.
Strip down to the basics. Being mindful does not have to be a complicated and stressful practice. Rather, it is as simple as breathing. We already do these practices every day, we just get lost or forget in the chaos. Think about simplifying parts of your life that don’t need so much clutter.
9. Partake in guided meditation.
Feel like you need some help when it comes to mindfulness meditation? Try guided meditation which uses a voiceover narration to lead you through the meditation. Countless recordings, websites and apps are available help you practice.
Additional mindfulness resources
- Healthline: 2016 Best Meditation Apps
- Living Well: Mindfulness exercises
- Mindful: Mindful Meditation–Getting Started
- UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center: Free Guided Meditations
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
MBCT is a form of therapy that focuses on increasing mindfulness to improve mental health with daily assignments, yoga and meditation. It uses techniques such as mindful movement and selective attention. For example, focusing on each breath or noticing different sensations.
It’s helpful for those with severe depression in combating pervasive and dysfunctional thoughts, especially individuals vulnerable to relapse. Individuals with depression are used to perceiving the world through a negative lens. MBCT teaches individuals to experience a thought without passing judgment on it. It focuses on awareness and acceptance of present thoughts and experiences, and better managing rumination on the past or future.
Diana Ro, PsyD is a Doctoral Limited Licensed Psychologist at the Pine Rest Traverse City Clinic. Diana earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Behavior from University of California of Irvine. She received her Master’s degree in Psychology and Christian Leadership as well as her Doctorate of Psychology degree from Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.