Daily stresses are a fact of life that we all deal with. If you’ve spent some time researching stress management techniques, you have likely heard of mindfulness.
One of the biggest factors that prevent people from pursuing mindfulness is feeling like they have to make immediate lifestyle changes. The great thing about mindfulness is that you can apply as much or as little of it to your life as you are comfortable with. If you aren’t in a place to make big life changes, you can still enjoy the benefits.
If you’re not sure if mindfulness is for you but want to find out, keep reading. This article will serve as a beginner’s introduction to its benefits and how you can implement it in your daily life.
What is Mindfulness?
In the simplest sense, to be mindful is to be aware and present. It is a mental shift towards being more present in your life – if you take the time to notice your surroundings while you are taking your dog for a walk, you are being mindful.
Mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years in the Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions. The Vedic texts in Hinduism discuss many concepts important to the philosophy of mindfulness, such as Dharma (the order of the universe) and enlightenment.
Mindfulness focuses on being in the present and becoming completely absorbed in whatever you are doing. If you are drinking your morning coffee, you might be mindful by focusing on its warmth, taking in the smell of the freshly ground beans, and enjoying its depth of flavor.
All forms of mindfulness focus on one thing: being in the present. Getting caught up in what might happen or what has already happened makes it difficult for us to fully appreciate where we are now, and can exacerbate our worries and fears.
Being mindful of your current situation can be incredibly helpful if you are experiencing panic or anxiety. By focusing on your immediate surroundings, you can draw your attention away from the sources of your anxiety.
A good way to begin is to focus on doing one task at a time. Trying to do more than one thing at once will give your mind more reason to wander. By completing one task at a time, you can put all of your focus on that task, completing it more energetically and precisely than if your mind were elsewhere.
Types of Mindfulness
The great thing about mindfulness is that it can be applied to all aspects of your life. No part of your day is too small to benefit from focusing on what is happening in that moment. Here are a few areas of your life you can try being more mindful in.
Body: This type of mindfulness focuses on what is going on in your body. One step at a time, you analyze the various parts of your body, becoming more aware of the sensations you experience at any given moment.
Body scan mindfulness can help you realize where you might be holding stress in your body, and will also help you let go of some of that tension. You can try it out for yourself if you feel so inclined.
Movement: Most of the time, this is done in the form of yoga or tai chi. This type of mindfulness focuses on the movements your body is making.
One popular movement mindfulness exercise is focusing on your walking. Most of the time, this exercise is slow and meaningful, focusing more on the motions rather than on getting from one place to another.
Breath: Breathing mindfulness exercises are some of the most helpful practices in dealing with anxiety. When you are mindful of your breathing, you will notice an immediate impact on your state of mind.
When you’ve got a few minutes to practice being mindful, you can check out this breathing exercise that focuses on what you should do after you exhale.
Environment: Focusing on your environment is a great way to help yourself come to the present. Most of us are in a rush to go about our day and don’t take notice of everything going on around us. Taking a moment to sit down and notice the flow of the world can help you slow down and catch your breath in an otherwise stressful time.
One of the most common environment exercises is focusing on the sounds around you. Whether you are in your quiet home, or on a packed bus, there are many sounds you can tune into and be mindful of.
Top Benefits of Mindfulness
You’ve likely started looking into being more mindful because you’ve heard of all of the potential benefits you can get from being mindful. Here are some of the things you can look forward to when you start incorporating it into your daily life.
A 2013 study found that people who practiced mindfulness had lower levels of cortisol, one of the body’s stress hormones. Knowing what you are thinking and why you are feeling a certain way can help you figure out how to deal with the stressors in your day to day.
Having a regular practice of mindfulness makes you less likely to immediately react to a situation. In your mindful state, you take time to focus on what is happening and evaluate the best course of action. This can help reduce potential conflict and prevent further stress from occurring.
A 2013 study found that being mindful helped many college students improve their 2013 GRE scores. In the study, researchers helped students focus their minds and become more attentive to their surroundings. After a two weeks of practicing mindfulness, most students found they had improved in their test scores by 16 percentile points.
Because mindfulness forces you to bring your whole focus to the present, you will make clearer memories. When you are focusing on what’s happening around you in a given moment, you will make stronger mental associations, making it easier to recall what was happening in any given moment.
Reduced Anxiety and Depression
Individuals with anxiety might be worrying about all the possible things that could go wrong. When you take the time to focus on your surroundings and your body, you’ll be less inclined to obsess about what ifs.
There are also hundreds of studies that show the benefits of mindfulness for those who suffer from depression. After several weeks of mindfulness practice, many participants see a reduction of depression symptoms and are less likely to relapse into depressive episodes.
Incorporating Mindfulness into Your Life Today
Getting started with mindfulness is easy. Even if you only have five minutes a day, you can improve your health, reach a better mindset, and start to get better emotional control with regular, short practices of mindfulness.
One of the most important things to remember is that you don’t have to make a lot of big changes at once. The best way to make mindfulness part of your lifestyle is to make small changes. If you don’t think you have enough time to get really into it, just dedicate five minutes of your day to doing a breathing meditation. Practice noticing how your breath comes in and out of your body.
Once you feel like you can be mindful of your breath without too much effort, you can move on to being mindful in other ways. If five minutes doesn’t feel like enough time, then set aside ten minutes. In those ten minutes, take the time to notice any tension in your body. Are you clenching your jaw? Do your shoulders feel tight? Whatever is happening in your body, take the time to notice it.
When you are ready to practice mindfulness in other parts of your life, you can follow the steps below to make the most of your practice.
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
- Get yourself into a comfortable position.
- Set an intention. What will you be meditating on today? What do you hope to get out of your mindfulness experience? Hold onto that goal as you start your practice.
- Take a moment to focus on your breath. Feel your chest rise and fall as your breath comes in and out of your body.
- Once you are in a calmer state of mind, expand your consciousness. Focus on your emotions, your environment, your body, your thoughts, or any other object of your meditation that will help you to reach your goal.
- Notice different aspects and characteristics of the object of your meditation. Use as many senses as possible.
- When you are ready to come out of the meditation, take a few deep breaths and stretch out. The motion will signal your brain that it’s time to move onto other things.
There are countless options of what you can choose to be mindful of, whether you decide to focus on your emotions, body, or environment, you can take advantage of the many benefits mindfulness can bring to you.