What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is to be present. It may also be thought of as a practice designed to gently gain more control over your attention and bring it into the present moment. Your attention is a precious resource, needed for learning, for your best performance at work, and for engaging in relationships. If your mind is excessively worrying over the future or ruminating about the past, the practice of mindfulness can help.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
- Reduction of anxiety and stress - A common experience with the practice of mindfulness is the reduction of anxiety and stress. Stress and anxiety are negative states that arise from the mind. Bringing your attention to the present moment through awareness of your breath will immediately provide relief.
- Increased physical health – mindfulness has been associated with greater immune function and lowered heart rate and lowered blood pressure.
- Greater mental functioning - higher brain function is experienced as the ability to maintain focused attention. Greater attention and less stress allows for increased clarity and the ability to feel calm and relaxed.
Over time, with continued practice of mindfulness on a regular basis, your ability to focus on the present moment will grow, and your experience of anxiety and stress will decrease.
Imagine being able to fall asleep peacefully at night instead of helplessly listening to your mind to race over all the perceived stresses of the day and imagined stresses of the future.
Imagine not waking up in the middle of the night feeling anxious and overwhelmed by life.
Imagine experiencing more peace as you go about your day- at work, in traffic, and at home.
Mindfulness and Stress Reduction
If you are feeling anxious or stressed, long, slow deep breaths are an immediate and effective way to calm your nervous system.
The act of taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly is akin to manually taking hold of your nervous system’s stress response and shifting it from a sympathetic response (fight or flight) to a parasympathetic response (relax and recovery).
Whether you are in a stressful situation or just working to practice mindfulness during specific times you set aside each day, the breath is an effective way to begin.
How Do I Start Practicing Mindfulness?
Many people begin the practice of mindfulness by simply becoming aware of their breath. Even when you are in the midst of an activity, gaining an awareness of your breath immediately brings you into the present moment.
A simple way to get started:
- Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Decide on a set amount of time; usually 5 to 10 minutes is a great start.
- Begin with your eyes softly opened, focus on a place on the floor in front of you.
- Take 10 slow deep breaths.
- Let your eyes close, continue to breathe normally.
- Feel the natural flow of breath in and out. Notice how your body feels in the chair.
- Scan your body, noting any signs of tension or discomfort. Imagine relaxation and healing moving into any part of the body that feels stress or pain.
- Breath normally, count breaths in and out again up to 10, then stop counting.
- For most people, this is when the mind will begin to wander. When you notice thoughts coming in, gently and without judgement, allow the thought to float away. Then, bring your attention back to your breath.
- Continue to breath and release thoughts until your set time is up.
Mindfulness is a practice that is easy to step into. It is also something to be nurtured and cultivated over time. By practicing living in the present, guiding our attention, and reducing stress and anxiety, we can greatly improve the quality of our lives with both immediate and long-term effects.