So where do we start. Lets start with: What is Mindfulness?
There are a lot of ideas about mindfulness and we spend a lot of the time at the start of a group training looking at (mainly figuring out), what mindfulness is not. Mindfulness isn’t some cure-all that will fix everything; mindfulness may not lead you to enlightenment; mindfulness won’t stop you thinking and make your mind blank; mindfulness would stop you reacting emotionally to events. Rather, mindfulness is a life skill, that is, like taking you body to the gym, instead we are taking our mind to the gym. And that, in itself, is the power of mindfulness. We have very few tools in our society that are about promoting positive mental health and mindfulness is one of those tools, and anyone can do it. I really mean it, no matter if you are the type of person that says that mindfulness is not for you, or sitting still is impossible, or your brain works in different ways to others, you to can practice mindfulness. But for the time being you are going to have to take my word for it. You too can benefit from all that mindfulness has to offer, and even though there is an exhaustive list of benefits, the only thing that you really are going to get from mindfulness, is that you will end up being more of yourself ( I hope that makes sense, if not leave comments and we can flesh out what that means).
Now down to definitions, because definitions are always useful when we are trying to understand something new. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, with a non-judgmental and curious attitude.When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than following our thoughts into the past or into the future, reliving or pre-living those events and missing out on the living now.
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness (and we are not taking about after years of practice, we are talking about as little as 4 weeks), can bring a range of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Below are a list of some of them:
- Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
- Mindfulness is good for our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Indeed, at least one study suggests it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.
- Mindfulness changes our brains: Research has found that mindfulness increases the density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- Mindfulness helps us focus: Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and attention skills.
- Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism: Research suggests mindfulness training makes us more likely to help someone in need and increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well.
- Mindfulness enhances relationships: Research suggests mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another.
- Mindfulness is good for parents and parents-to-be: Studies suggest it may reduce pregnancy-related anxiety, stress, and depression in expectant parents. Parents who practice mindfulness report being happier with their parenting skills and their relationship with their kids, and their kids were found to have better social skills.
- Mindfulness helps schools: There is now scientific evidence that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavioral problems and aggression among students, and improves their happiness levels and ability to pay attention. Teachers trained in mindfulness also show lower blood pressure, less negative emotions and less symptoms of depression, and greater compassion and empathy.
- Mindfulness helps health-care professionals cope with stress, connect with their patients, and improve their general quality of life. It also helps mental health professionals by reducing negative emotions and anxiety, and increasing their positive emotions and feelings of self-compassion.
- Mindfulness helps prisons: Evidence suggests mindfulness reduces anger, hostility, and mood disturbances among prisoners by increasing their awareness of their thoughts and emotions, helping with their rehabilitation and reintegration.
- Mindfulness helps veterans: Studies suggest mindfulness can reduce the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of war.
- Mindfulness fights obesity: Practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, helps people lose weight, and helps them savor the food that they eat.
So what does all that mean for you?
It makes interesting reading and you can read a hundred books on mindfulness (and there are thousands), never mind the research articles and blogs, all talking about how fantastic and life-changing mindfulness is ( this one included 🙂 )but at the end of the day, the benefits are in the pudding. The benefits and the understanding of how mindfulness can work for you, are only seen, understood, and realised when you actually practice mindfulness, until then, its like reading an article about fitness and hope that that in itself will get you fit. SO be inspired, begin practicing mindfulness today!