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The Meaning of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a simple technique designed to help you live in the moment. It isn't a therapy so much as a way of life, a way of learning to pay attention in the present moment. It has its roots in the traditions of Buddhism but has been transformed by 20th century self-help enthusiasts into something more practical, something achievable by anyone regardless of their beliefs or affiliations.
The concept developed out of an experiment conducted by microbiologist Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s, when he and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts created their Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) to help people deal more effectively with stress-related problems.
The concept of mindfulness can be confusing the first time you come across it. It's been summed up as a way of "paying attention on purpose" - in other words, bringing your attention to what you're doing right here, right now.
That's easier said than done. You've probably experienced times when you were busy doing something but your mind was somewhere else. Activities you do frequently can get taken for granted; you go through the motions without giving them much thought. If you think about it, though, what that really means is that you're not living life to its full potential.
Why is "living in the present" so important? The past is a memory you relive in the present moment, and the future is an occasion or event you think about in the present moment. You can only ever exist in the present moment, so it makes sense to make the most of that precious time while you can.
How could you benefit most from mindfulness?
One of the simplest ways to get to grips with the idea of mindfulness is to focus on your breathing. If you think about it, as soon as you turn your attention to your breathing you can't help but be in the present moment. Breathing is something you only do right now, so it makes a good focal point for beginning your mindfulness practice.
To practice mindfulness breathing, simply draw your attention to your breathing. Try this short exercise now:
- Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow?
- Are you breathing in through your mouth or nose?
- Are your shoulders lifting when you breathe?
- Can you notice how breath travels in and down and then up and out of your body?
If you managed to do it, then congratulations. You've just completed your first mindfulness exercise. Whenever your attention starts to wander during a session of mindfulness meditation, simply bring it back to your breathing.
A Mindful Moment
According to standard dictionaries, the word "mindfulness" means being aware or being 'mindful' of your thoughts. But mindfulness as a technique is more than that: your thoughts are simply another thing you can bring your attention to. It's not about thinking, it's about being there.
Enjoying a Life of Mindfulness
When you think about mindfulness, meditation, and similar techniques, there's a tendency to view them as special practices that only take place at certain times. It's common to practice meditation, for example, first thing in the morning or at some other time of day when there's available peace and quiet. But mindfulness doesn't have to work that way.
Rather than setting aside a few minutes here and there, why not make mindfulness a meaningful part of your everyday life? Here are some simple methods you can use to do just that:
Everyday Mindfulness Techniques
You experience the world around you with your senses, so that's an easy way to start weaving mindfulness into your life. Until it becomes a natural part of your day, try experimenting with one of the following ideas:
- Sight - look at something that's near you that you normally take for granted. It could be a photo, a vase, an item on a desk or table, or the palm of your hand. Bring your attention to it and really look at it. Notice the shape, texture, color and construction like you've never seen it before. Don't try to analyze it, just look at it and take in its features and attributes.
- Sound - at some point in your day just sit or stand wherever you are and listen. See how many different sounds you can hear. Try to distinguish whether they're loud, soft, high, low, pleasant, jarring, near or far away.
- Touch - notice the physical sensations you experience throughout the day, such as the wind on your face or in your hair, the feeling of your feet on the ground as you stand or walk, the sensation of your back against the chair, how it feels when you rub your hands together to wash and dry them, and so on.
- Smell - scents are all around you, from the shampoo in your hair to your partner's cologne, the aroma of coffee at the office, the refreshing scent of fresh air, dinner cooking in the oven, chewing gum in the mouths of passing strangers, etc.
- Taste - notice the textures and flavors when you take a bite of an apple or a sandwich. Feel your mouth and tongue as they work to move it around, the food as it slips down your throat, and the way the different flavors explode inside your mouth and activate your taste buds.
moment to moment attention
in the here and now
detaching from unhelpful thoughts
forgiving and being grateful
learning with a beginner's attitude
The Benefits of Mindfulness
There's no doubt that following the mindfulness mindset will help you relax - but relaxation is only one positive side effect. Research has shown that regular mindfulness practice leads to a whole host of benefits, including the following:
- Lower anxiety levels
- Better sleep experience
- Decrease in health problems
- Greater sense of self confidence
- More optimistic outlook
- Less stress
- Better concentration
- Improved memory
And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Mindfulness meditation is known to boost the immune system, make it easier for people to kick bad habits and addictions, and help fight serious illnesses from diabetes to cancer. With so much going for it, it's a wonder more people aren't doing it already.
Try it yourself to discover what could well be the secret to a happier and healthier life.
I'm a freelance writer, author, musician and composer. Visit my self help blog at http://theselfhelpzone.blogspot.co.uk/ for lots of freebies.