Updated: Aug 31
Mindfulness is a practice that has been a prominent aspect of many religions since ancient times and has become popularized in a non-religious sense in the past few decades as a method of improving one’s physical and emotional health. Early research on mindfulness revealed incredible evidence that it helps to reduce chronic pain and over time, it’s been found to be a highly effective component of treatment for depression, anxiety, binge eating, insomnia and so many other emotional struggles that people experience.
Mindfulness reduces stress hormones in the body and increases the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which naturally calms your body and mind. Those who practice mindfulness regularly report greater happiness, feeling less overwhelmed, experiencing a sense of peace in the world as well as so many other benefits.
Mindfulness is one of the most effective ways to improve your overall well-being and to enjoy your life more, no matter what the external circumstances are at any given moment.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice of being present in the here and now with a sense of curiosity, allowing thoughts, feelings and sensations to come and go, without attempting to control them and without judging them as good or bad.
It involves acknowledging things as they are and not actively trying to change the present moment, which is also known as “non-striving.” It helps you to rely on your own wisdom and to accept that things in your life will be ever-changing. It helps you to foster a sense of compassion toward yourself, in part due to the emphasis on being non-judgmental.
In mindfulness practice, you do the best that you can to experience life with a “beginner’s mind,” as if things are fresh and new, no matter how many times you’ve been through it before.
Ask yourself, “how often do I go about life like this?” If you’re like most people, the answer is “not very often.” That’s OK and there’s no judgement here. Mindfulness is a practice, not a destination.
How do I practice mindfulness?
One of the best ways to practice mindfulness is to have a mindfulness “check-in” on a regular basis. You might start your day with one and then repeat it a few times throughout the rest of your day. It can be helpful to put a reminder on your phone to make sure you don’t forget.
These check-ins would involve taking a few moments to breathe and notice your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, without trying to analyze them or fix them. Just become aware and give yourself a bit of time to relax your body and mind and experience a sense of quiet. Just doing this a few times a day would be a huge benefit to your mental health.
Formal mindfulness practise involves setting aside time and space to engage in mindfulness in an intentional way.
For instance, it might involve mindfulness meditation, which can be done in several ways, but one of the most common is to focus on the breath. In this case, you sit and breathe, just noticing your breath coming in and out. You don’t try to change your breath in mindfulness, but instead, you just notice it and any accompanying sensations.
Your mind will wander and you notice the wandering mind, while gently and non-judgmentally redirecting your attention back to the breath and the present moment. In most mindfulness meditation sessions, you’ll have to do this over and over again.
With mindfulness meditation, you can begin with 5 minutes and then add in more time, up to 20 minutes. Be easy on yourself though…I’ve been regularly meditating for years and I usually meditate for 10 minutes, not 20. Do what works for you.
Informal mindfulness practices
Informal mindfulness practise involves weaving mindfulness into your everyday life. It’s one of my favourite ways to practice mindfulness. It involves turning off your electronics and instead of just being where you are, focusing on what you’re doing. Here are some examples:
When eating breakfast, you eat in silence, slow down and notice the smell of your coffee and the taste of your toast and eggs. You put your phone away and turn off the TV.
The next time you notice feeling frustrated with someone, imagine sending them love, compassion and empathy. This one can be challenging and is a more advanced strategy. Just try it and do the best that you can.
When walking to your car, you notice the feeling of the crisp air and you focus on breathing in and out. You might count your steps while you walk, counting up to 10 and then restarting.
If you live with others, take time to truly be present and listen to them speak about how their day has gone. Just this change will improve the quality of your relationships more than you might expect.
Before walking into your home after work, sit in your car and notice where you might be holding stress or tension in your body. Listen to any intuitive sense as to what would be helpful in releasing that stress. Soften your body. Choose to be in the present moment when you enter your home.
What’s your plan for using mindfulness?
After learning about mindfulness, how would you like to incorporate it into your life?
Formal mindfulness practices, like mindfulness meditation
Informal mindfulness incorporated into your daily routine
If you’re interested in engaging in more mindfulness experiences, try reading the classic book, “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Beware, it’s a long book and a bit challenging to get through! Another good option is “Wherever you go, there you are,” which is also by Kabat-Zinn, but is designed as a compilation of brief chapters and an easy read. “A mindfulness-based stress reduction workbook” by Stahl and Goldstein is a great workbook with actionable strategies to use.
If you want, even more, a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction group will likely be offered in your area. It’s a great way to learn and experience mindfulness.
Respond below with your plan! I’d love to hear from you. If you want a PDF download of this information, get it here.