The practice of mindfulness has been gaining in popularity over the last few years, and for good reasons. It has many benefits for the body and the mind. For example, it can help you fight anxiety and depression while keeping your heart healthy. Read ahead to learn more about mindfulness, its benefits, and how to practice it in your day-to-day life.
What Is Mindfulness?
According to Oxford Languages, the definition of mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” (1) In a more practical sense, mindfulness is a type of meditation during which you focus on the present moment. More specifically, you aim to increase your awareness of the feelings and sensations you have in the present (2).
How much time do you waste every day worrying about possible, hypothetical future scenarios? Or getting angry at yourself for not doing this or that in the past? When you think about it, you waste a lot of time in the present ruminating about things that have already happened or may never happen.
The idea of mindfulness is to have you fully engage in what you are doing in the present moment for better focus. Using various techniques and exercises, you practice getting rid of intrusive and judgemental thoughts. As time goes by, you become better and better at living in the now.
What Are the Benefits of Practising Mindfulness?
Practising mindfulness might sound silly to many of you, but the research is there to back up its benefits. In fact, most psychological associations, like the American Psychological Association, recognise its benefits for mental health.
One of the main benefits of mindfulness is stress reduction. In 2010, a review and analysis of 39 different studies concluded that mindfulness therapy could positively alter affective and cognitive processes responsible for stress (3).
Along the same lines, mindfulness is effective at reducing anxiety symptoms. Individuals who practice living in the present become better at selecting the emotions they experience. Emotions are also processed differently in the brain when someone becomes well-versed in mindfulness meditation (3). In other words, anxiety is processed in a way that does not affect the person as much, and they can push the emotion aside.
Mindfulness can also increase your productivity. First, it improves the ability to focus and pay attention to a specific task (3). One of the principles of mindfulness is to prevent intrusive thoughts from entering the mind, making you sharper. Second, mindfulness decreases your emotional reactivity (3). In other words, you become better at disengaging from upsetting situations and focusing on the task at hand instead.
Other mental health benefits include better working memory, self-insight, and fear modulation (3). It is also helpful in reducing depressive symptoms (2).
If you thought mindfulness only had mental health benefits, you thought wrong! There are also physical health benefits to practising mindfulness exercises regularly. First, it can improve heart health by reducing blood pressure and decreasing heart rate. The American Heart Association even concluded that mindfulness is powerful enough to be used as an adjunct treatment to prevent and treat coronary heart diseases (4).
Studies also suggest that mindfulness can improve immune response, reduce cell ageing, and decrease cognitive decline related to Alzheimer’s disease (4). Although some of these findings are preliminary, they sure are promising!
Practising Mindfulness in Your Daily Life
When people think of mindfulness, they also often associate it with meditation. However, there are things you can do daily to improve your mindfulness without meditation.
You can start by setting an intention for your day as soon as you wake up. By consciously setting some goals, you become more likely to think, act, and respond with compassion throughout the day. Therefore, the first thing you should do when you wake up is to take three deep breaths and set your intention. For example, do you want to focus on self-care? Or do you want to improve your active listening skills at work? Pick one and then regularly check in during the day to see how you are doing. Never be harsh on yourself and refocus your mind on your intention, if need be.
Working out is another way to practice mindfulness. Many people like to train because it allows them to forget about their day by focusing on their training. These individuals practice mindfulness without even knowing it as they centre their thoughts on the present moment.
If physical activity is something you’d like to do more to improve your mental and physical health, we’d love to help you. We provide personal training services to disabled people who want to be more active. We know the many barriers people face when it comes to working out, and we are there to make it easier for you. We will provide a fitness programme tailored to your needs, and if mindfulness is something you’d like to practice when training, we can help with that too!
Moving on from physical activity, did you know that you can even practice mindfulness simply by eating? We are all guilty of rushing at mealtimes, and something we devour our plate faster than it takes to say “bon appétit!” If that’s you, maybe you can use your lunch and dinner times to practice being in the now.
Make sure to sit down for your meal and avoid distractions, like playing on your phone or watching TV. Take a few deep breaths before starting to eat to bring your attention to the present and calm down. As you are eating, focus on the foods flavours and textures. Eat slowly, and listen to your hunger cues. Rate your hunger from 1 to 10, with 10 being the hungriest you have ever been. Stop eating when you no longer feel the sensations of hunger, like stomach growling.
Helpful Mindfulness Exercises
In addition to being more mindful in your everyday life, you can also set some time aside to practice mindfulness. Here are a few exercises you can try:
The body scan
The body scan is often a favourite because it is one of the best ways to reduce body tension and relax (5). You can easily find guided meditation recordings that will take you through it. Simply type “body scan meditation” on YouTube, et voilà!
Most people like lying on their back to practice the body scan, but you can also do it in a chair. The facilitator will ask you to focus your attention on your body and its sensations, one body part at a time. The scan is usually done from bottom to top, meaning you will start at the toes and finish with the face.
The 3-minute breathing space
If you cannot make a lot of time to practice mindfulness, then this exercise is for you! It is divided into three sections, each lasting one minute (6). During the first minute, think about how you are doing in the present. Try to put your feelings and your thoughts into words.
During the second minute, focus on your breathing. Be aware of each breath in and each breath out. Feel the air going in and out of your lungs. Finally, spend the last minute bringing awareness to the ways breathing affects your body.
If you get some intrusive thoughts, gently push them out and bring your mind back to the exercise.
The raisin exercise
The raisin exercise is great if you are a beginner in the practice of mindfulness meditation (6). Once again, you can easily find recordings for this exercise on YouTube, and all you need are a few raisins.
During the session, the facilitator will ask you many questions about the raisin to get you to pay close attention to it. For example, he’ll ask about the texture, the smell, the taste, and the appearance. The goal is to focus your mind on the raisin in front of you and prevent you from worrying about the past or the future.
The Take-Home Message
Mindfulness meditation helps you focus your attention on the now and lessens your worries about past or future events. Some of its benefits include stress reduction, improvement of anxious and/or depressive symptoms, increased productivity, and better working memory. There are also physical health benefits, such as better cardiovascular health and improved immune function.
Start each morning with an intention and check in throughout the day to see if your actions serve your intention. Practice mindfulness during your training sessions and at mealtimes, and use these moments to focus your attention on the present moment. Finally, do some exercises, like the body scan or the three-minute breathing space, to improve your mindfulness meditation skills!