What is Mindfulness? What Can It Do?
Mindfulness is attention to present experience with no judgment and with open curiosity. It is a quality of attention that can be brought to any experience. It can be cultivated through various practices or by adopting a mindful approach to life. As you learn the techniques and principles of mindfulness, you can apply them to any moment in the day.
The research exploring mindfulness is demonstrating that repeated practice can lead to changes in our lives, including:
- Reducing stress
- Reducing chronic
- Boosting the body's immune system to fight disease
- Coping with painful life events, such as the death of a loved one or major illness
- Dealing with negative emotions like anger, fear and greed
- Increasing self-awareness to detect harmful reactive patterns of thought, feeling and action
- Improving attention or concentration
- Enhancing positive emotions, including happiness and compassion
- Increasing interpersonal skills and relationships
- Reducing addictive behaviors, such as eating disorders, alcoholism and smoking
- Enhancing performance, whether in work sports or academics
- Stimulating and releasing creativity
- Changing positively the actual structure of the brain
Mindfulness as a Trait
A trait is a feature by which we differ based on genes and environment and is relatively stable over time. Even with little or no formal training we have differences in our experiences of mindfulness. Preliminary research shows that the brains of people who are more naturally mindful are better able to regulate their emotions and regulate attention.
Self-Regulation & Mindfulness
Self-regualation refers to the monitoring and modification of behavior, thoughts, emotions, or body states. You are constantly regulating your body state (activity level), cognitive state (thoughts), emotional state (feelings), relationship state (how you relate to yourself and others). Mindfulness meditation can influence any of these areas.
Mindfulness as a State
Research demonstrates that mindfulness practice changes subjective and physiological states. The immune system gets stronger. Brain activity changes creating calm and focused attention. Brain structure itself changes creating thicker grey matter. Feelings of anxiety and depression lessen, well-being improves and relationships with self and others are healthier.
Experiencing Mindfulness in Life
Most of us have had an experience of mindfulness at least once in our life. A time when you felt a connection to yourself or the natural environment. You felt alive and really "in your body" rather than lost in thought as usual. You might have felt some relief from countless annoying, trivial or even important issues that had been bothering you. You were connected to the experience. It could have been a time in nature or the creativity of art, writing or music. Maybe it happens during exercise or a sporting event. Maybe a moment of falling in love or the birth of your child.
Is Mindfulness for Me?
You might be thinking that with a demanding job and endless responsibilities that you don't have time for a mindfulness practice. It can practiced anywhere at any time. Mindfulness is the art of observing your physical, emotional and mental experiences with deliberate, open and curious attention. You will improve your skill to be mindful through a daily formal practice. The benefits far outweigh the little time it takes. In practicing mindfulness, you are not trying to change who you are, but to become more fully present with your experiences - with your body, thoughts and feelings and with their impact on your life. You are likely to get to know yourself better and learn to better handle pressure and stress. You will become more discerning of your thoughts, feelings and actions and that awareness will help you make a positive change if you wish.
No More Automatic Pilot
So often we are not present in what we are doing. We tend to remember the crises or important events, but much of ordinary life seems to slip by us -- taking a shower, grocery shopping, getting dressed, driving to work. We are on automatic pilot. We are not really appreciating much at all, missing out on life. With the present-moment attention of mindfulness you can see an ordinary event as extraordinary. It can bring you new enthusiasm and joy.
From the Past and Future
Reactivity means responding in ways that induce unnecessary stress. When someone verbally attacks you, or your boss wants you to stay late, or someone promises to do something and doesn't follow through, you may react by getting angry and say something you regret. It may feel as though you have no control. By being able to stay present, even in a difficult situation, you can become aware of your impulses and respond in a way that does not lead to more harm.