Mindfulness: Getting into the Here-and-Now
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has become an increasing trend in today’s world, not only in the field of mental health but in physical health and overall well-being as well. Simply put, mindfulness is all about awareness of the present moment: the here-and-now. According to Oxford dictionaries, mindfulness is defined as “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 without judgment.” It is an ability that we all naturally possess as human beings but can be difficult to achieve in the fast-paced, always on the go, society we live in without daily practice.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?
Research has shown mindfulness to be beneficial in all dimensions of total wellbeing (emotional, physical, social, occupational, intellectual, spiritual) with lasting positive effects when practiced regularly. Mindfulness is one of the core components utilized in Dialectical-Behavior Therapy (DBT). As human beings, we all experience stress and anxiety in one way or another and mindfulness exercises are some of the most powerful tools for reducing stress and anxiety in everyday life. Here are some more advantages of practicing mindfulness regularly:
• Decreases stress and anxiety
• Decreases depressive symptoms
• Alleviates PTSD symptoms
• Improves emotional regulation
• Increases self-awareness/insight
• Increases self-esteem/self-compassion
• Increases connections with others
• Reduces feelings of loneliness
• Reduces brain chatter (overthinking)
• Increases focus and concentration
• Improves decision-making
• Boosts creativity
• Boosts resiliency
• Improves academic performance
• Greater understanding of pain
• Reduces chronic pain
• Lowers blood pressure
• Reduces risk of heart disease
• Slows down progression of neurodegenerative diseases
• Aids in weight loss
• Improves sleep
• Increases athletic performance
• Enhances sex life
How does Mindfulness Work: The Basics
Mindfulness works essentially by developing increased awareness of the connections between your mind and body. For example, when we experience negative thoughts and emotions, such as stress, anxiety, depression, anger, or grief, our bodies typically react automatically with increased heart rate, fatigue, muscle tension, etc. Therefore, by becoming mindful, you can learn how to manage negative thoughts, emotions, and reactions and reduce the uncomfortable physical reactions that your body may experience. Through this awareness, you can learn to accept your thoughts and emotions without reacting to them negatively.
Mindfulness can be done absolutely anywhere and doesn’t take much but you and your body. In order to practice basic mindfulness, first you will need to set aside an allotted time period and space in which you will be free of distractions. Once you get comfortable, simply start observing the present moment as is while withholding judgment. The goal is not to necessarily quiet the mind but rather just to pay attention to what’s around you and the feelings/thoughts within. When you notice judgments arising, make a mental note of them, let them pass, and return to observing the present moment as is. It’s easier said than done because our minds can easily get distracted by intruding or racing thoughts, however, this is a skill that gets easier with time and practice. That is why mindfulness is essentially the practice of returning back to the present moment over and over again. It seems very simple but not necessarily easy, which is why it is important to practice daily…consistency is key!
Examples of Mindfulness Strategies
There are various mindfulness strategies that you can incorporate into your daily self-care routine until it becomes a habit.
• Mindful Meditation: when you hear the word ‘meditation’ you might automatically start visualizing the traditional practice of Buddhist monks sitting cross-legged, arms spread out with the thumb and forefinger slightly touching, and eyes closed, right? Although this posture of Buddha Vairochana is the traditional stance, contemporary meditation can be done in just about any position. The most important factor is that you find a position in which you feel completely and totally comfortable whether you are seated or lying down. Meditation is all about exploring your mind, body, and soul. It’s about stillness, paying attention to bodily sensations, focusing on your breath and allowing our thoughts and emotions to pass through while holding back judgment. It’s about allowing yourself to sit with your thoughts and emotions whether they are positive or negative and letting them take their course without hyper-focusing or holding on to them and returning your attention to your breath as an anchor for the here-and-now. There are plenty of guided meditations on YouTube and online with the link provided below.
• Deep Breathing: there are tons of different breathing exercises out there and yet, we forget to breathe all the time. Deep breathing skills can be as simple as taking 5 minutes a day to take focus away from worry about the past or future and turn your attention to your pattern of breath in the present moment. An easy exercise is inhaling through your belly to the count of 4, holding to the count of 4, and slowly exhaling through your mouth at the count of 6.
• Mindful Walking: this can be done by taking a walk outside and observing and describing in detail all that you see, touch, hear, smell, and taste. It’s about reacquainting yourself with mother nature, giving yourself a break from the hustle and bustle of life, and finding yourself in the appreciation of life.
• Yoga: yoga has been found to be an extremely beneficial form of mindful practice in that it is both a physical and mental exercise. Yoga is about moving your body with the flow of your breath, allowing you to bring attention to your mind, body, spirit.
• Grounding (5 senses): this technique can be done any time, any place, and anywhere to turn your focus outward on the external world and the present moment and away from inner turmoil, negative emotions, or worries about the past/future. It is a type of “centering” that can be used to quickly ground yourself in the present when you only have a moment. The goal is to bring awareness to your surroundings using each one of your senses (5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you can taste).
• Other Mindful Practices: mindful eating, progressive muscle relaxation, body scan, urge surfing, mindful art, mindful journaling, imagery
If you find yourself struggling with overwhelming worry about the future, can’t let go of the past, have ruminating thoughts or if you’re dealing with any amount of stress, anxiety, or depression, etc., our counselors are here to help guide you toward becoming more mindful and improving your overall quality of life. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors.
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh