‘Mindfulness’ – it’s being mentioned absolutely everywhere at the moment. But what actually is it? How ‘mindful’ are we? And perhaps most importantly, how can regularly practicing ‘mindfulness’ benefit us?
What is mindfulness?
Many people have the misunderstanding that mindfulness is some sort of religious or spiritual practice – and whilst mindfulness is taught as part of a number of different faiths, it is certainly not solely a practice used by religious or spiritual groups.
Being in a ‘mindful state’ simply means that you are fully aware of the present moment – along with the thoughts, feelings and sensations that come with it. In your mindful state, you completely accept all that is happening to you and around you, without judging or criticising any of your experiences. ‘Mindfulness’ can then be described as achieving this mental state, in which you are being ‘mindful’.
Being ‘aware’ of the present moment may sound fairly easy, but most of the time it’s actually much harder than you might think.
How much of your time is spent thinking about what needs doing once you’ve finished the task you’re currently completing, or wondering how things may be different if something in the past had taken a different turn? How many times have you put down an item and immediately forgotten where you’ve put it, or walked into a room only to find that you have no idea why you went to that room in the first place? On your commute to work or travelling to somewhere familiar, how often do you ‘zone out’ and forget which roads you’ve travelled along, or which train stations you’ve passed through? When talking to another person, how often do you find yourself focusing on what you will say next – even when the other person hasn’t finished talking? Or, on the other hand, do you sometimes lose track of what has been said and forget the topic of conversation?
All of these occurrences, plus many more similar things that happen to us all on a daily basis, can be described as ‘mindless‘ experiences. They all go to show that our focus is often fixated upon the future, or preoccupied by the past. These mindless experiences aren’t harmful of course, but there are a number of positive differences we can benefit from if we learn to better focus our mind on the present moment.
How can practicing mindfulness benefit me?
Mindfulness has been shown to be effective at reducing anxiety levels and chronic pain, as well as increasing a person’s tolerance and resilience in situations that are distressing for them, and increasing a person’s ability to fully relax. In today’s society, life can pass us by very quickly, and therefore proper relaxation is extra-important to maintain mental and physical well-being. Along with a new type of relaxation that’s good for your mind, you might also benefit from an improved attention span, an enhanced awareness of your emotions and thoughts, and decreased stress levels. What have you got to lose?