Mindfulness is not just meditating if that is what comes to mind for most of you. Rather mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It also helps us learn how to accept our lives, in the present moment, without judgement.
Not an easy feat you are thinking? I must admit it does take practice, a lot of it, especially for those of us that are programmed to multi task and are driven more by achievement rather than the journey. But I am here to tell you letting go and being fully present can be done, feels really good, and shifts you to prioritize your life for what really matters (family, friends, purpose, abundance, happiness to name a few).
And it seems that thousands of scientific and psychological studies agree with me. Although mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the American mainstream in recent years, in part through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which he launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.
Here are just a few of the benefits practicing mindfulness, even for a few weeks, can produce:
1. It’s good for our bodies: practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
2. It’s good for our minds: mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
3. It’s good for our spirit: Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism. 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.
On the same day that I started my 21-Day Mindfulness Challenge, this video by Daily Good, a sister site to KindSpring, popped into my inbox: 6th Graders on Mindfulness. My youngest just hit 6th grade so of course I was going to open it. It’s only 2 minutes so give it a listen, if only to give you hope that the future generations will have an awareness of and, more importantly, the skills to do what it will take to change the world the way it needs to change. As the Dali Lama says, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Hint, hint..go back and read #3 benefit of practicing mindfulness. This video was the topic of conversation between my 6th grader and myself yesterday in the car. We discussed ways for her to practice mindfulness and I asked her to think of one of her teachers that might be encouraged to take on this task in her middle school.
How can you cultivate mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn emphasizes that although mindfulness can be cultivated through formal meditation, that’s not the only way. He goes on to say, “It’s not really about sitting in the full lotus, like pretending you’re a statue in a British museum. It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.”
Here are a few key components of practicing mindfulness that Kabat-Zinn and others identify:
1. Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
2. Notice—really notice—what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
3. Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.
4. Tune into your body’s physical sensations, from the water hitting your skin in the shower to the way your body rests in your office chair.
Here are some more exercises from Pocket Mindfulness to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life: 6 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today.
If you are ready to start a meditation practice, here is a good place to start: Meditation for People Who Don’t Meditate (A 12-Step Guide). As you can tell from the title, the author, Daniel Scott, a yoga teacher, keeps it light and funny but he nails the basics.
Join me in the 21-Day Mindfulness Challenge! Start on the day you sign up or go back to Day 1. Either way, we could all use a little bit of mindfulness to better our already great lives and a challenge to jump start the process, well, you gotta love that!