Mindfulness has its origin in the Buddhist traditions of meditation and spiritual enlightenment, but the concept has taken off in popular western culture in recent times.
There are thousands of books on the topic, from mindful parenting to mindful eating, but perhaps one of its most exciting applications is in the area of health care.
What Exactly Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is loosely defined as paying close attention to everything going on inside you and around you, without judgement. It can mean focussing on your breathing, in and out, to how you feel, what you smell and what you can hear and taste. It means being fully aware of your body, your emotions and your surroundings. When applied to someone else, it can mean focussing your full and undivided attention on them and what they’re saying or doing.
Who Can Benefit from Mindfulness?
The short answer is: Almost everyone. And that’s the exciting thing about mindfulness. Studies show it benefits those who are physically and emotionally unwell, but also those people who are perfectly well. It has wide-ranging benefits for people of all age groups, starting with young children. (However, it is believed mindfulness may not be beneficial for people with psychosis, so it is important to consult a medical professional first before engaging in mindfulness techniques, if you suffer from mental illness.)
So, What’s Standing in Our Way?
It sounds simple enough in theory, just pay attention to the here and now and breathe. So why are more of us not practicing mindfulness, more of the time? Put simply, our lives are super busy and there is a lot competing for our time and attention. Frazzled parents are packing lunches, making Book Week costumes and racing off to work. Stressed executives are working ridiculous hours and putting out multiple fires. Technology and social media have kids firmly in their grip, so it can be very hard to switch off, literally and figuratively.
But these are exactly the reasons why mindfulness is so desperately needed. So much of life is lived on autopilot, which has you driving from home to work without remembering how you got there, or eating a whole tub of ice cream in front of the tv without meaning to, while not even taking in what you’ve just watched. Mindfulness can help you take back some time and leaves some space between your mind and the chaos going on outside.
Benefits Of Mindfulness
Because mindfulness is simply a way of focusing your attention, it can help you in all areas of your life, including your work environment and in your relationships, because it leads to intentional listening and connection.
More specifically, in the areas of health, mindfulness can help in a number of ways.
Stress and Anxiety
A great deal of stress stems from obsessing over what happened in the past and worrying about the future. The beauty of mindfulness is its power to anchor you in the present. When you’re focussed solely on the intricate patterns a spider is weaving in its web, it’s difficult to think about a fight you had with your partner or how you’re going to impress your boss, at the same time. If you’re in the midst of an anxiety attack, focussing on your breathing may help you to feel grounded and safe. According to Headspace, “For many, mindfulness is the key to reining in an attack and keeping anxiety under control. With the right methods, a mindful attitude can help you keep calm and focused, even in the face of an oncoming attack.”
Difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep can often be caused by a racing mind. Using mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and meditation, as part of a nightly sleep hygiene ritual, can help calm your thoughts and put you in a healthy, relaxed state, more conducive to drifting off to sleep.
So much of our unhealthy eating that leads to weight gain, takes place when we’re bored, distracted or stressed. When you choose to eat mindfully, you not only make more conscious, healthy choices, but you enjoy your food more, by savouring every mouthful. If you’re paying attention to how your body feels and you’re taking your time, you’re also in a better position to recognise when you’re full, so you can stop eating.
Pain and Chronic Health Conditions
Chronic pain or injury recovery can be a long and difficult road, so staying strong mentally is crucial to the process. Mindfulness techniques can help with a person’s mental health during difficult times, can assist with mood elevation and also sleep health, which is so important in healing.
How To Be Mindful
Grounding yourself – Focus on the present moment and remember that you are safe. Inside your head, say your name, address, your date of birth and eye colour. Start noticing your surroundings and point out specific details. Pay attention to how your body feels, from the tips of your fingers to the soles of your feet. Don’t stray into the past or the future, just linger in the right now.
Deep Breathing – breath in and out slowly, counting as you go, focusing on how your body feels as you inhale and exhale. Notice how your body is relaxing into the breathing.
Forest Bathing – walk outside, particularly in beautiful, natural surrounds if you can, and notice how old the trees are and what colour the flowers are. Listen to how the bird calls sound and pay attention to what you can smell.
Meditation – close your eyes or stare at a candle, and sit comfortably, even for five minutes, and focus on your breathing. Let your thoughts come and go without judgement and relax into the doing of nothing. You can use an app, or go to a class, or simply sit and breath quietly.
Music – listen to calm, relaxing music or the sounds of the ocean or birdsong in the rainforest. It won’t take long for the relaxation to kick in.
Consistency – Just like anything you’d like to get good at, consistency is the key. The health benefits of mindfulness get stronger, the more you practice it.
5 Books About Mindfulness to Check Out
For spiritual enlightenment – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Self-discovery – The Untethered Soul by Michael A Singer
Eating – The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution by Lynn Rossy
Parenting – The Awakened Family by Shefali Tsabary
Anxious kids – Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel
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