Mindfulness is a powerful practice of bringing one’s attention to experiences, thoughts and feelings that are occurring in the present moment. Many use the terms mindfulness and meditation interchangeably and they have similar characteristics and goals. Meditation’s aim is to still the mind, while mindfulness’ goal is be awake and aware of what’s happening in the present moment. Both practices are used to achieve similar results, whether that’s to reduce stress, achieve inner peace, or expand one’s ability to experience the world around them. Some examples of mindfulness include:
This is a simple exercise than can be done anywhere at any time. Just stop and focus on your breath. Start by breathing in and out slowly. Try to extend the length of each inhale and exhale. Feel the air fill your lungs. Let your thoughts go and become present by paying attention only to your breath.
This is a powerful exercise of focusing your attention on a single object, often something in nature. Simply choose an object – a flower, insect, or the clouds in the sky – and observe without judgment. Look at it as if you’re seeing it for the first time and pay attention to every detail. Connect with its energy and its purpose in the world.
In this exercise, one simply notices the things and/or events that happen each day and being grateful. This could be something as simple as giving thanks that there’s food in your refrigerator, that your bus is on time or that the sun continues to rise each day.
Mindfulness is known primarily as a form of stress reduction. Numerous studies have shown its ability to lower stress, which is often the foundation of many diseases. A study done at Carnegie Mellon University show that practicing mindfulness for just 25 minutes for three consecutive days was enough to alleviate stress and make one more resilient in stressful situations.
But perhaps even more interesting are the studies about mindfulness’ effect on the mind. In one study, participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness program experienced significant increases in the density of their brains. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and one of the authors of the study, was so intrigued, she conducted two more studies to discover what, if any, effect meditation had on the brain. What she discovered is that meditation created physical changes in the brain; specifically, the hippocampus – responsible for learning and memory – grew larger.
How to Practice Mindfulness
We live in a busy world that rewards achievement and getting results. Given these circumstances, it can be a challenges to practice mindfulness. Here are some tips to get you started.
Make the time
The good thing about mindfulness is that it can be done in a very short amount of time. Focusing on your breath for just a minute can often reduce stress almost immediately. Almost everyone can find a minute in each day.
Observe your present moment without judgment
You may be feeling anxious, sad, guilty or angry. During your mindfulness practice, allow yourself to feel these emotions without judgment and observe what effect your mental state is having on your body. If you’re observing a grasshopper, do so without trying to make sense of its actions or trying to figure out why it’s behaving the way it is.
As judgment arises, acknowledge it, then let it go
It’s easy for our minds to start wandering during either mindfulness exercises or meditation. When this happens, simply realize what’s going on and then return your attention to your breath or whatever it is you’re observing. Be kind to yourself and understand that there’s no perfect way to be mindful. Just allow yourself to be whatever you are in the moment.