The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is such a buzz phrase lately. I wanted to take some time exploring mindfulness and how it can be beneficial to all of us. Psychology Today defines mindfulness as, “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
My first lesson in mindfulness came in one of my very first yoga classes. At the beginning of class when we were all seated on our mats the instructor said, “Instead of worrying about getting here, let’s just be here”. I suddenly noticed how my mind was still in this rush that it usually is. Most times our minds are in the past or focused on the future. Rarely do we not multitask, our world is set up for multitasking. Even when concentrating on one task we are making plans in our head and focused on the next thing: groceries, errands, kids’ activities, dinner etc. Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhism but very relevant in everyday life.
According to Greater Good in Action at the University of California Berkeley, studies have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Here are some of these benefits, which extend across many different settings.
- Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
- Mindfulness is good for our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Indeed, at least one study suggests it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.
- Mindfulness changes our brains: Research has found that it increases the density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- Mindfulness helps us focus: Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and attention skills.
- Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism: Research suggests mindfulness training makes us more likely to help someone in need and increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well.
- Mindfulness enhances relationships: Research suggests mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another.
- Mindfulness helps healthcare professionals cope with stress, connect with their patients, and improve their general quality of life. It also helps mental health professionals by reducing negative emotions and anxiety and increasing their positive emotions and feelings of self-compassion.
- Mindfulness fights obesity: Practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, helps people lose weight and helps them savor the food they do eat.
This sounds great in theory but I’m sure you’re asking how this can be incorporated into everyday life.
1.) Start with noticing the present.
2.) Take an inventory of your senses and what you notice.
3.) Breathe and focus on the present task at hand, whatever it may be.
The great thing about mindfulness is that it can be practiced everywhere and at all times. It takes practice but becomes easier. If practiced during calm times it will be easier to implement in times of stress. In the beginning if not able to calm your mind then concentrate on slowing your breath and focus on saying “breathe in, breathe out” with your breathing rhythm. Mindfulness slows down our reactions and allows us to notice how we feel before we react.
Let’s stop rushing through life and start taking time to notice it.
These blogs were written by members of the CHI Health Behavioral Care team.