How to reduce stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, and even chronic pain by refocusing your mind? This article explores a cutting-edge meditation therapy that uses a self-control technique, called Mindfulness. Mindfulness has taken off across the globe as a way of overcoming negative thoughts and emotions and achieving a calmer, more focused state of mind.
This practical guide covers the key self-control technique specially designed to help you achieve a more focused and contented state of mind while maximizing the health benefits of mindfulness-from reducing stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure to overcoming depression and low self-esteem and battling chronic pain and insomnia.
Table of Contents
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, with qualities like compassion, curiosity, and acceptance.
Through being mindful, you discover how to live in the present moment enjoyably rather than worrying about the past or being concerned about the future. The past has already gone and can’t be changed. The future is yet to arrive and is completely unknown. The present moment, this very moment now is ultimately the only moment you have.
Mindfulness shows you how to live in this moment harmoniously. You find out how to make the present moment a more wonderful moment to be in – the only place you can create, decide, listen, think, smile, act, or live.
You can develop and deepen mindfulness by doing mindfulness meditation daily, from a few minutes to as long as you want. This article introduces you to mindfulness and mindfulness meditation and welcomes you aboard a fascinating journey.
Understanding the Meaning of Mindfulness
Mindfulness was originally developed in ancient times and can be found in Eastern and Western cultures. Mindfulness is a translation of the ancient Indian Word Sati which means awareness, attention, and remembering:
This is an aspect of being human that makes you conscious of your experiences. Without awareness, nothing would exist for you.
Attention is a focused awareness; mindfulness training develops your ability to move and sustain your attention wherever and however you choose.
This aspect of mindfulness is about remembering to pay attention to your experience from moment to moment. Being mindful is easy to forget. The word remembers originally comes from the Latin re ‘again’ and memorari ‘be mindful of’.
Say that you want to practice mindfulness to help you cope with stress. At work, you think about your forthcoming presentation and begin to feel stressed and nervous. By becoming aware of this, you remember to focus your mindful attention on your breathing rather than constantly worrying. Feeling your breath with a sense of warmth and gentleness helps slowly to calm you down.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who first developed mindfulness in a therapeutic setting, says:
‘Mindfulness can be cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, non-judgementally, and openheartedly as possible.
You can break down the meaning even further:
✓ Paying attention.
To be mindful, you need to pay attention, to whatever you choose to attend to.
✓ Present moment.
The reality of being in the here and now means you just need to be aware of the way things are, as they are now. Your experience is valid and correct just as it is.
Normally, when you experience something, you automatically react to that experience according to your past conditioning. For example, if you think, ‘I still haven’t finished my work’, you react with thoughts, words, and actions in some shape or form. Mindfulness encourages you to respond to your experience rather than react to thoughts. A reaction is automatic and gives you no choice; a response is deliberate and considered action.
The temptation is to judge experience as good or bad, something you like or dislike. I want to feel bliss; I don’t like feeling afraid. Letting go of judgments helps you to see things as they are rather than through the filter of your judgments based on past conditioning.
Mindfulness isn’t just an aspect of the mind. Mindfulness is of the heart as well. To be open-hearted is to bring a quality of kindness, compassion, warmth, and friendliness to your experience. For example, if you notice yourself thinking ‘I’m useless at meditation’, you discover how to let go of this critical thought and gently turn your attention back to the focus of your meditation, whatever that may be. For more on attitudes to cultivate mindfulness.
Looking at Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a particular type of meditation that’s been well researched and tested in clinical settings.
Meditation isn’t thinking about anything. Meditation is paying attention in a systematic way to whatever you decide to focus on, which can include awareness of your thoughts. By listening to your thoughts, you discover their habitual patterns. Your thoughts have a massive impact on your emotions and the decisions you make, so being more aware of them is helpful.
In mindfulness meditation, you typically focus on one, or a combination, of the following:
- The feeling of your breathing
- Any one of your senses
- Your body
- Your thoughts or emotions
- Whatever is most predominant in your awareness
Mindfulness meditation comes in two distinct types:
✓ Formal meditation.
This is a meditation where you intentionally take time out of your day to embark on a meditative practice. Time out allows you to deepen your mindfulness practice, and understand more about your mind, its habitual tendencies, and how to be mindful for a sustained period, with a sense of kindness and curiosity towards yourself and your experience. Formal meditation is mind training.
✓ Informal meditation.
This is where you go into a focused and meditative state of mind as you go about your daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, walking to work, talking to a friend, driving – anything at all. In this way, you continue to deepen your ability to be mindful, and train your mind to stay in the present moment rather than habitually straying into the past or future. Informal mindfulness meditation means you can rest in a mindful awareness at any time of day, whatever you’re doing.
Using Mindfulness to Help You
Do you know how you get lost in thoughts? Most of the day, as you go about your daily activities, your mind is left to think about whatever it wants. You’re operating on ‘automatic pilot mode’. But some of your automatic thoughts may be unhelpful to you, or perhaps you’re so stuck in those thoughts, you don’t experience the world around you.
For example, you go for a walk in the park to relax, but your mind is lost in thoughts about your next project. First, you’re not living in the present moment, and second, you’re making yourself more stressed, anxious, or depressed if your thoughts are unhelpful.
Mindfulness isn’t focused on fixing problems. Mindfulness emphasizes acceptance first, and change may or may not come later. So, if you suffer from anxiety, mindfulness shows you how to accept the feeling of anxiety rather than denying or fighting the feeling, and through this approach, change naturally comes about. As an old saying goes, ‘What we resist, persists. Mindfulness says, ‘What you accept, transforms’.
ProKensho explores the many ways in which mindfulness can help you. In mindfulness, acceptance means acknowledging your present moment experience. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation or giving up.
Enjoying the Benefits of Mindfulness
The enjoyment that comes from mindfulness is a bit like the enjoyment that comes from dancing. Do you dance because of the cardiovascular benefits, or for boosting your brain by following a tricky dance routine? When you dance with a goal or motive in mind, it kind of spoils it a bit, doesn’t it?
Dancing for the sake of dancing is far more fun. But of course, dancing for the sheer pleasure of it doesn’t reduce the benefits of dancing on your mind and body – they’re just the icing on the cake.
In the same way, be mindful for the sake of being mindful. Mindfulness is about connecting with your senses, being curious, and exploring the inner working of the human mind. If you’re too concerned about reaping the benefits of mindfulness meditation, you spoil the fun of it.
The journey of meditation isn’t to reach a certain destination – the journey is the destination. Keep this in mind as you read the various benefits of mindfulness described in this article, and let the dance of mindfulness unfold within you.
The benefits of mindfulness – relaxation, better mental and emotional health, and an improved relationship with yourself and others – are just the bonuses along the way. Read on to discover how mindfulness can help you.
The Benefits of Mindfulness:
1. Relaxing the Body
The body and mind are almost one entity. If your mind is tense with anxious thoughts, your body automatically tenses as well. They go together, hand in hand.
2. Getting back in touch
As a baby, you were probably very much in touch with your body. You noticed subtle sensations and may have enjoyed feeling different textures in the world around you. As you grew up, you learned to use your head more and your body less. You probably aren’t as in touch with your body as you were as a young child and don’t notice those subtle messages that the body gives to you, through the mind. I’m sure that some people see the body as simply a vehicle for carrying the brain from one meeting to another!
3. Boosting your immune system
If something’s wrong with your body, normally your immune system deals with it by fighting disease. Unfortunately, one aspect of the stress response is your immune system not working as hard. When threatened, your body puts all its resources into surviving that threat; the energy required for digestion or immunity is turned off temporarily.
Stress isn’t necessarily bad for you. If your stress levels are too low, you’re unable to perform effectively and get bored easily. However, if you’re stressed for sustained periods at high levels, your body’s natural immune system is going to stop working properly.
Mindfulness enables you to notice subtle changes in your body. At the first sign of excessive stress, you can bring mindful awareness to the situation and discover how to dissipate the stress rather than exacerbate it. In this way, mindfulness can benefit your immune system.
4. Reducing pain
Amazingly, mindfulness has been proved to reduce the level of pain experienced in people practicing it over eight weeks. I’ve had clients who couldn’t find anything to help them manage and cope with their pain until they began using mindfulness meditation.
When you experience pain, you quite naturally want to block that pain out. You tighten your muscles around the region and make an effort to distract yourself. Another approach is that you want the pain to stop, so you react to the pain angrily. This creates greater tension, not only in the painful region but in other areas of the body. Sometimes you may feel like fighting the pain. This creates a duality between you and your pain, and you burn energy to battle it. Or perhaps you react with resignation – the pain has got the better of you and you feel helpless.
Mindfulness takes a radically different approach. In mindfulness, you’re encouraged to pay attention to the sensation of pain, as far as you can. So, if your knee is hurting, rather than distracting yourself or reacting in any other way, you focus on the area of physical pain with mindful awareness. This means you bring attitudes like kindness, curiosity, and acknowledgment towards the area of pain, as best you can.
This isn’t easy, but you can get better with practice. You can then consider the difference between the sensation of the physical pain itself, and all the other stuff you bring to the pain. You begin to understand the difference between physical pain and psychological pain. The physical pain is the actual raw sensation of pain in the body, whereas the psychological pain is the stress, anxiety, and frustration generated.
Through mindfulness, you begin to let go of psychological pain so that all that’s left is the physical pain. When the psychological pain begins to dissolve, the muscle tension around the physical pain begins to loosen, further reducing the perception of pain. You begin to be able to accept the pain as it is in this present moment.
5. Calming the Mind
Just as the aim of mindfulness isn’t to relax the body, though this sometimes happens, so the aim of mindfulness isn’t to calm the mind, though this sometimes happens too.
Your mind is like the ocean – occasionally wild, and at other times calm. Sometimes your mind goes from thought to thought without stopping to rest. At other times, your thoughts come slower and have more of a space between them.
Mindfulness isn’t so much about changing the rate of your thoughts, but about noticing the thoughts arising in the first place. By taking a step back from thoughts, you can hover above the waves. The waves are still there, but you have more possibility of watching the show rather than being controlled by the thoughts themselves.
Also Read: I Am, I Can: 101 + Affirmations for Kids