What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is explained as the nonjudgemental awareness of what is happening in the present moment. (1) Often people are not fully aware of and awake to where they are and what they are doing and are living on autopilot.
Mindfulness is a practice that involves always being present, understanding and appreciating the current moment, then continuing to live without judgment or guilt. Practicing mindfulness can be done in various forms – from being mindful when you eat to practicing mindfulness to help with stress and anxiety.
When we pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and environments we are free to notice what is happening around us and within us in the present moment. This allows us to make informed decisions about new possibilities.
The benefits of mindfulness
As a daily practice mindfulness can have amazing benefits on your health and wellbeing. When you focus on the present and let only current thoughts enter your mind, you think less about the past and future, and just acknowledge and accept what is happening right now. Mindfulness can impact positively both our body and mind. Recent studies suggest that mindfulness-based practices might impact our brain (2), heart (3) and immune system (4).
Studies are showing that mindfulness-based practices have positive effects on employees’ mental health – they can improve psychological functioning and lead to decreased levels of emotional exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and occupational stress.(5)
Who can practice mindfulness
Anyone can practice mindfulness and benefit from it. For example, eating offers a good opportunity to become mindful and improve your eating habits.
Here are some tips on how to do that:
1. While eating focus only on the food – where it comes from, how does it impact your mind, body, and spirit
2. Eat without distractions – when you eat focus only on your food. You just want to focus on eating and get used to eating without having outside distractions.
3. Embrace every sensation while eating – the colors of your food, taste each flavor on your tongue and smell the food.
How mindfulness can help relieve stress
Mindfulness is a great tool to use if you are stressed in the right now and want to feel better immediately. It can help with overthinking and negative thoughts. There is a lot of evidence showing that mindfulness practices help build inner strength and increase resilience.
1. Being aware of your inner state allows you to react intentionally – you are more aware of the thoughts and the sensations in your body, which puts and keeps your mind in the present moment, which is related to relaxation.
2. Your abilities to focus are improved which allows you to work more effectively, be more productive and have less stress
3. You are more aware and respectful of the emotions of others which increases your emotional intelligence and prevents you from reacting immediately to a situation
A quick exercise in mindfulness
Take a quiet moment and notice your emotions. Are you feeling happy, angry, sad? Focus your attention on your shoulders and neck: can you relax them? Take a few deep breaths and notice what might be causing your stress, anxiety, tension, or negative thoughts. Reflect on your recent interactions then bring your attention back to this moment. Think about your toes, and how they feel right now. Focus your attention slowly up your body, including your knees, your abdomen, your forearms, your face, and cheeks. Take a deep breath and continue with your day.
Other mindfulness practices
- Breathing exercises
- Gratitude journaling
- Qi gong
- Tai chi
- Guided imagery
- Mindful walking and many more like being mindful while eating, listening, or playing.
Mindfulness is not something that can be learned right away. It is a practice. Start with small steps and build on that. This is a practice with a huge impact and benefits. Increased mindfulness in one area leads to increased mindfulness in other areas of life. There are various ways to practice mindfulness. Experiment to find what works best for you.
Mindfulness practices offer tools to anchor yourself within the present and can help improve self-awareness. You can build your ability to be self-aware and mindful—and every step you are taking will improve your health and happiness. Mindfulness techniques can be used by anyone and they can have a variety of health benefits – from improving your eating habits to better-coping flexibility and decreased stress levels.
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- Korn, L, Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health, W.W. Norton & Company, 2016