Mindfulness is a popular pursuit, and you probably know some people who swear by it. According to its advocates, mindfulness can not only help you deal with difficult emotions but can also improve your overall health.
But is this true – is mindfulness really that good for you? And, if so, is it suitable for people of all ages, or only adults?
If you want to learn more about mindfulness and explore its impact on your mental and physical health, now is a perfect time.
As it turns out, mindfulness isn’t just about practicing meditation and breathing exercises – it’s also about living in a certain way. In this article, we’ll introduce you to all the basics of mindful living.
We’ll explore significant benefits provided by mindfulness, explain the many different ways in which you can begin to practice mindfulness in your own life, and give you some tips for teaching mindfulness to the kids in your life.
What Is Mindfulness And Why Is Mindfulness Important?
Let’s start with the fundamental facts. What is mindfulness?
While many people immediately associate mindfulness with meditation, being mindful really just means being present.
When you’re mindful, you’re fully engaged with the current moment, ignoring distractions.
Crucially, it involves being aware of yourself – your body, your mind, your feelings – without judging any of these things.
While meditation is a practice, mindfulness is better described as a way of living, and it’s something we can all learn to do in time.
If you think about it, you probably have mindful moments every day. Each time you’re fully absorbed in a song, beautiful surroundings or in a moment of connection with another person, you’re immersed in the present moment.
Living a mindful life simply involves cultivating this sort of attitude as your default, so that you spend most of your day in a mindful state instead of only entering it occasionally.
Now, why is it so important? We’ll get into some of the detailed health benefits in a moment. However, at the general level, mindfulness stops you from being stuck in two particularly unproductive mindsets.
One involves ruminating over the past at the expense of the present. The other involves worrying about the future, also at the expense of the present. With mindful living, you live more fully – you turn your full attention to now, you get to know yourself better, and you take things for granted less often. Let’s turn now to look at some of the specific benefits you can enjoy.
Benefits Of Mindfulness
When you’re consistently mindful, benefits range from improved mental health to higher levels of energy.
However, the benefits of mindfulness aren’t merely anecdotal.
An increasingly persuasive group of studies shows us that mindful living actually impacts on the structure and function of the brain.
Certain parts of the brain – such as those that regulate emotion – become bigger and more active. Here are five of the most exciting changes you can expect to see in your life as a result.
Mindfulness Lowers Your Stress Levels
We’ve learned from mindfulness studies that the body’s physiological markers of stress decrease after several weeks of mindful living.
Mindfulness makes our brains better able to cope with daily stresses.
Experts speculate that this is because of increased connectivity in the brain system associated with focus and executive control.
Mindfulness Strengthens The Mind
Mental strength is also correlated with mindfulness.
In particular, those who practice mindfulness self-report lower levels of mental health issues, especially low mood, and depression.
The evidence shows a particularly significant impact on children and adolescents, whose minds are still developing. We’ll take a closer look at mindfulness activities for kids below.
Mindfulness Improves Your Sleep Quality and Reduces Fatigue
Mindful sleep practices focus on slowing and simplifying thoughts before bed. For example, you might journal before sleep, meditate, or tune into a relaxing piece of music. The resulting improvements on overall sleep quality leave you feeling more rested.
Meanwhile, feeling better rested is linked to happy moods and improved cognitive function.
Mindfulness Improves Focus
Relatedly, mindfulness improves focus more generally. The latest research on this benefit shows improvements in the length of time you’re able to concentrate. You may also be better able to tune out distractions.
This is particularly good news for sufferers of ADHD, especially children struggling to adjust to the concentration required at school.
Mindfulness Helps Reduce Anxiety
Finally, as suggested above, mindfulness strengthens your ability to regulate your own emotions. This means when you encounter anxiety triggers, you’re more capable of de-escalating your feelings of fear.
Specific mindfulness exercises like deep breathing and visualization can be particularly effective at targeting anxiety, but studies suggest that any mindful living reduces anxiety.
Different Ways To Practice Mindfulness
Now that you know more about the powerful benefits of mindfulness techniques, let’s turn our attention to how to practice mindfulness.
As covered above, mindfulness practice doesn’t have to be all about meditation.
Mindfulness meditations (such as body scanning) are wonderful for relaxation and concentration, but they’re far from the only way to integrate mindfulness practice into your life.
These six mindfulness exercises will inspire you to make simple daily changes that help you to tune into the present moment, shut out unhelpful distractions, and enjoy life’s beautiful little details.
Mindfulness experts estimate that choosing to practice mindfulness for just 10-20 minutes each day can instigate the neurological changes we discussed. So, here are some fun, straightforward ways to start.
We’ve all had times when we’ve swallowed a quick lunch in just a few bites before going back to work, or where we’ve binged on candy when feeling a bit low.
In contrast, mindful eating is all about creating an enjoyable, slow-paced ritual around the process of eating good food. To do this exercise, begin by choosing one mealtime when you know you don’t need to rush.
Concentrate on the sounds, smells, flavors, and textures as you prepare the food. Notice the feelings rising up inside you at the thought of eating.
When you’re ready to eat, serve your food on a favorite plate, and use utensils that you enjoy holding. Eat-in small bites, chewing slowly and carefully as you work your way through the meal.
Challenge yourself to pick out all the different flavors in the food, and monitor how they impact on your body. What makes your mouth water?
What bursts on your tongue, and how does the food feel as you swallow? This is mindful eating, and once you get used to doing it for one meal it can quickly become the norm. You can even do this when having a snack, especially if it’s juicy fresh fruit.
Mindful movement is a broad category that includes fully immersing yourself in the present moment while doing any form of exercise.
Yoga is a special example that we’ll look at in more depth shortly, but let’s consider some other types of mindful movement.
Dance is a good example, as it involves careful, precise movements, often in time to the music.
Swimming and jogging also have a rhythmic quality that you can tune into, letting other thoughts drift away.
However, you can challenge yourself to mindfully engage in just about any form of exercise. As with mindful eating, it’s useful to start by thinking about some relevant questions as you move.
Which muscles are stretching, and which are contracting? Where do you feel tension or discomfort, and where do you feel your body loosening up and becoming more comfortable?
How does your breathing change to complement the movements you’re making, and how does your heartbeat feel in your chest? How are your movements changing your mood?
In short, really tune in to absolutely every sensation associated with the way your body is moving.
Mindful music exercises can take a couple of different forms and mindful listening is suitable for anyone, and you can practice it by using a wide range of styles of music. Choose a song, or a series of songs, and sit comfortably.
Listen to the song, and keep your body still as you do so – don’t try to do any chores, write any emails, or think about your plan for the day.
As ever, notice the way the music changes your feelings – both emotionally and physically. What sensations are resulting from the music? Do you feel goosebumps?
Do you feel at peace, or is your heart rate rising? What different instruments can you hear in the music?
If you play an instrument yourself (or indeed sing), mindful music techniques can also use your instrument. This is like a combination of the above exercise and mindful movement.
So, notice every note, and also how your body moves to create those notes. What feelings are coming up for you? Is your body tense or relaxed? Thoughts about other things may try to intrude, but just let them go without judgment or attention.
Mindful breathing is one of the most common practice types of mindfulness exercises, so you’ve probably heard of it or tried it already.
In its most basic and powerful form, the technique starts with you finding a comfortable place to sit.
Make sure you are free from distractions, and you feel safe.
Next, close your eyes when you’re ready, and begin to focus on your breathing. At first, don’t try to change it. Just observe its rhythm and the rise and fall of your chest.
After a few minutes, start to take control of your breathing. Inhale to a count of five, hold your breath for a count of three, and exhale to a count of seven.
You can adjust these numbers if it suits you, but the key thing to remember is inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Try to breathe deeply, from your diaphragm – the muscles under your ribs.
Perhaps more so than with the other exercises above, it’s common to get distracted during mindful breathing. This will get easier in time, so don’t give up.
When a thought interrupts, let it drift by and return your attention to your breathing. End when you feel ready.
Being mindful is already a key part of most yoga practice, so if you’re used to yoga then you’ve likely already learned some mindfulness skills.
Hatha yoga is a particularly good form of mindful yoga, as the practice has elements of meditation threaded into it.
Find a class (or some videos) that emphasize the mental and emotional aspects of yoga, and try them several times a week.
These classes will explicitly acknowledge that yoga influences thoughts and feelings, not just the body, and will teach you particular poses to help deal with particular feelings.
As with mindful movement techniques, notice every little thing that is happening in your body. What is comfortable, and less comfortable, what is it like to really lean into a new stretch?
What can you hear in the room, and what does your yoga mat feel like beneath you. Breathe in and appreciate all of these small details, fully anchoring yourself in the present moment.