What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a unique experience, complex and simple at the same time, which makes it hard to define it into words.
A lot of things happen when we practice mindfulness and at the same time nothing at all. In a sense when we practice mindfulness it’s as if we press a pause button and take a break from the turmoil of everyday life to celebrate existence itself, which is something that we take for granted: we are so lost in planning for the future or lingering over the past that we don’t take time to appreciate the miracle of life itself and truly enjoy and live in the present moment!
All this might sound very weird and it can definitely be awkward when you practice mindfulness for the first time, but mindfulness teaches us so much about life in general, it’s such an accessible way to increase our life satisfaction level and its benefits are so tremendous that all the awkwardness and weirdness pale in comparison.
I’ve come to the conclusion that basically whatever you want to change or improve in your life has to do with being mindful and there is no such thing as an area where you can’t apply mindfulness: you can apply it in everything you do!
To better understand what mindfulness is, think for example of physical exercise: the more we practice and train our muscles, the stronger, flexible and healthier we become.
The same goes for mindfulness, except mindfulness is a training for your brain and for your capacity to be present. We could say that mindfulness trains three muscles: attention, acceptance and equanimity.
You train your brain to pay attention to a single thing in the present moment. You train it to focus. How would this impact your focus in everyday life?
You practice acceptance and non-judgement. What would it mean for you to accept yourself the way you are and not judge and criticize yourself for any small thing you do? How do you think this will impact those around you?
Equanimity means to keep your calm and composure no matter the exterior triggers of stress, just like the mountain is not bothered whether it’s sunny, snowing or raining and the bottom of the ocean is not bothered by the ripples on the surface of the water.
How exactly do you practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which the goal is to fully concentrate on a present event or element which acts as the anchor. You can do it sitting or lying on lying down, with your eyes open or closed. In many practices breathing is the anchor, but as you become more experienced and depending on what works for you can experiment with other instruments.
The goal is to be completely focused on your breath, to follow the flow of each inhale and exhale in your body: starting from the nostrils, continuing with the throat, chest, stomach or wherever you feel it the most. This is a very individual experience so you will feel your breath the most in different parts of your body, the point it to be fully immersed into the experience of breathing.
As easy as it may seem, you will actually find that thoughts and distractions will come in the way. You will notice your thoughts drifting: one second you are focused on the breath and the other you will be thinking of what stressed you earlier that day at work, what you plan to cook for dinner, some event from 5 years ago or you will start planning a vacation in your head.
The key lies in noticing when that happens without getting frustrated or angry for allowing yourself to get lost in thoughts. This will happen all the time and the practice happens when you notice it and when you gently (without judgement of yourself and your thoughts) return to the breath and do it again and again and again. Notice the thoughts, let them go and return to the breath. That is the muscle training in mindfulness.
You will find there are days when it is so easy to stay focused on the breath and some days your thoughts will be more active and that is ok. The benefits of the practice are still the same.
The end purpose of mindfulness practice is to bring what happens while you meditate into your day to day life; to make a conscious choice to be present into what you do at all times or as much as possible.
Types of mindfulness exercises. Other mindfulness techniques
There are many ways in which you can practice mindfulness. Guided meditation, like the breathing anchor exercise above is especially useful for beginners. The voice of the instructor will help keep you focused and also instill the practice of acceptance, non-judgement and equanimity. Meditations can have different themes: relaxing the body, relieving pain, forgiveness, love.
Besides using the breath, you can choose to focus on other things, such as sounds (recordings of nature sounds, relaxing music, sounds that come from your surroundings), on the sensation of your body touching other surfaces or the sensation of air on your skin, the space around you.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Studies show that mindfulness enhances brain function, it reduces stress and anxiety, it makes you more aware of your emotion, makes you calmer even in difficult situations, it makes you more compassionate and it helps you sleep better.
It is useful in areas such as personal development, leadership, learning, when it comes to lifestyle changes, sports, parenthood, health and sick care and it increases your overall life quality.
How often should I practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness should be practiced every day for a longer period of times. Forming a habit of practicing mindfulness also depends on your schedule and what you need to make it work. Remember that the end goal with mindfulness is to introduce it as part of your everyday so you can easily practice it throughout the day in simple activities such as walking, washing the dishes or being fully present during conversations.
MBSR (Mindfulness-based stress reduction) founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn is an evidence-based program that lasts eight weeks and is also the basis for the CoachCompanion Romania mindfulness program Here and Now.
In this program you will learn more about the science of mindfulness and practice mindfulness both in-class and at home.
You can read more here: Mindfulness Workshop