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What is Mindfulness?

Story Highlights

  • Learn to live in the moment
  • Practice mindfulness even when you're not meditating
  • Master your emotions
  • Be prepared to overcome daily challenges
  • Practice the mindfulness exercise every day

The simplest definition of Mindfulness is your natural ability to be fully present, aware not only of your surroundings, but also of what goes on in your mind. If you are capable of not overreacting or being overwhelmed by what’s going on around you, then you are mindful. Mindfulness must not be confused with nonchalance, which is synonymous with ‘indifference’. It allows you to reduce stress, enhance performance at work or school, gain insight and awareness by simply observing your own mind, and experiencing an increased attention to others’ wellbeing, too.

Mindfulness meditation offers physical, psychological and spiritual benefits to anyone willing to practice regularly every day. Some physical benefits include:

  • Stress relief
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Reduces pain
  • Improves sleep

A study from UCLA demonstrates that long term physical benefits of meditation include better preserved brains than non-meditators. Regular meditation for an average of 20 years resulted in more grey matter throughout the brain. Widespread effects were also observed that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain. Just a few days of practice can improve concentration and attention, while reducing stress and anxiety.

If you live in the past, you are depressed. If you live in the future, you are anxious, but if you live in the present, you are at peace.Lao Tsu

Another very interesting study carried out at Yale University demonstrates that mindfulness meditation is capable of decreasing activity inside the network of the brain that is responsible for those mind-wandering moments we experience throughout the day – when the mind is wandering from thought to thought. Many people prefer to have more control over their thoughts because mind-wandering can be interpreted as a sign of being less happy, mulling over problems, worrying about the future and ruminating on the past. Mindfulness meditation provides you the means to dial it down. Furthermore, regular practice helps form new connections in the brain that make it easier for meditators to snap back out of that state.

Some mental benefits of mindfulness meditation include:

  • Regulates emotions
  • Increases calm and peace of mind
  • Improves focus and concentration
  • Brain secretes ‘feel good’ chemicals / hormones, serotonin, dopamine, endorphins

Some useful mindfulness practices

In order to fully understand what mindfulness has to offer, and to see if it even fits your lifestyle and mood, it is a good idea to experiment practicing it. One thing to keep in mind is that mindfulness is achieved not only during meditation, but afterward as well. In fact, regular practitioners find it easy to tune into the mindful state at any time, in any surroundings. Once you understand this concept, you will automatically understand the importance of applying mindfulness to all your activities.

You can practice with mindful breathing; breathe deeply and observe each breath as you slowly inhale while counting to three, and then exhale the same way. Gradually increase the count to whatever number you are comfortable with. Focusing on the breathing is key. Mindfulness can also be achieved while eating, by focusing completely on every bite of the food that you consume, or by observing nature and ‘being one with your surroundings’, while you focus on chirping birds and the sounds of nature that usually become the background noise to the hustle and bustle of city life. Frequent getaways to the park, or trekking in nature contribute significantly to the achievement of mindfulness. Allow yourself the possibility of coming back to the present moment when distracted.

Body Scan Meditation Exercise

Begin by assuming any posture that you find yourself most comfortable in, keeping in mind that your back has to be straight. Sitting cross-legged is the most common practice.

  • Take deep breaths – breathe slowly and deeply, expanding and contracting your abdominal area.
  • Practice body awareness starting from the crown of your head, all the way down to the toes of your feet.
  • Visualize a beautiful scene – mountains, lake, beach, waterfall etc. with cool wind blowing.
  • You are fully aware of your body throughout the meditation.
  • Remain in this meditative pose for 15 minutes every day.
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