Mindfulness, which comes from Buddhist practices, is a state of consciousness that is defined as “the state of being attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the present” (Brown & Ryan, 2003, p. 822). It is also an awareness of the impermanence of thoughts, which can lead to a trained mind with an increased level of attention stability (Jha, Krompinger, & Baime, 2007; Weick & Sutcliffe, 2006). Conceptually, mindfulness can also be considered a metacognitive process, consisting of monitoring and controlling thoughts to self-regulate thinking and emotions (Bishop, Lau, Shapiro, Carlson, Anderson, Carmody, Segal, Abbey, Speca, Velting, & Devins, 2004; Schraw & Moshman, 1995), or cognition about one’s cognition (Flavell, 1979).
Scientific Research breaks mindfulness down into three constructs: state mindfulness (the degree to which a person is aware and attentive in each moment), trait mindfulness (looking at an individual’s innate mindful traits or the frequency and duration a person spends in a mindful state which varies from person to person), and mindfulness practice or training, which can cultivate trait mindfulness (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Hülsheger et al., 2012). In a 2003 study, where Brown and Ryan examined the empirical links between mindfulness and well-being, they found that mindfulness practice increased well-being and decreased cognitive and emotional stress of their subjects, thus showing how mindfulness can be an important tool in daily life. Mindfulness has also been found to enhance working memory capacity and reduce rumination which can lead to negative affect (Bishop et al., 2004; Chamers, Chuen, & Allen, 2008) by acknowledging and accepting arising thoughts and redirecting focus.
Living your life in a more mindful way can help bring about greater peace and feelings of relaxation. When our minds gravitate to the past we start to feel depressed and when we gravitate to the future we feel anxiety. Therefore, by focusing your mind to stay in the present with what is happening to you right then and there, you relieve yourself of depression and anxiety.
Mindfulness meditation training, such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is a form of mental training that has been proven to reduce illness and improve immune function (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, Schumacher, Rosencranz, Muller, Santorelli, Urbanowski, Harrington, Bonus, & Sheridan, 2003; Fredrickson et al., 2008), decrease the cognitive and physical symptoms of stress, experienced negative affect, rumination (Chiesa & Serretti, 2009), and burnout (Hülsheger et al., 2013). MBSR is typically administered as an 8-week course that meets once a week, either in person or online, where mindfulness-based techniques are taught and a daily Mindfulness Meditation practice is encouraged (Kabat-Zinn, 2003).
Many of you are probably thinking, how am I going to find the time to do an 8-week course on mindfulness? With many free apps available such as Headspace, Calm and Insight, it has become easier to incorporate daily meditations and reminders to take a short time out of your day to unplug and refocus your attention to the present. In addition, there are other techniques to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine such as mindful walking, cooking, eating and showering.
Beyond mindfulness meditation where you sit quietly and focus your mind, there are other techniques that can help live mindfully such as learning mindful walking. My favorite way to remind myself how to walk mindfully is to use the acronym STOP, which stands for Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed. When doing so, you want to bring your focus to your environment and away from your racing mind. This allows you to notice the details in how things look and feel such as different colors and light that you see around you or how the air feels on your skin. Many people do walking meditations barefoot so that they can feel how the ground touches your feet.
For more information on how to do mindful walking go to A Daily Mindful Walking Practice which includes a guided audio meditation.
When you prepare a meal, what goes through your mind as you measure and mix ingredients in your kitchen? Do you observe details such as color and texture as you chop vegetables or chose descriptive words to describe how things feels as you touch them? Mindful cooking can not only relieve stress and bring you more into the present but can also help those people who struggle with physical health and weight issues. Setting intentions as you prepare a meal can change your experience into one filled with love and gratitude which can impact your state of mind and your daily life.
When we eat we often rush through our food because we are thinking about the next place we have to be or the next thing we have to do. We don’t allow our brains to really take in the experience of eating and end up in a whirlwind of thoughts or eating unhealthy because we are not fully aware of what we are doing. This is why we eat when we are stressed or binge eat because we are not fully conscious of what and why we are doing what we are doing. Taking a moment to be more cognizant of our actions will allow for better choices when it comes to eating and a more relaxed and enjoyable practice of having a meal. This is an important component to living mindfully on a daily basis.
Have you ever heard of meditating while in the shower? Learning how to shower mindfully is something not many people think about but if you start off with the right mindset in your daily routine can drastically change how you feel throughout your day.
~ Stephanie Baker
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