… but we’re afraid to ask
So what’s the big hoopla about “Mindfulness”??
In its simplest form, it’s nothing more than focused-attention on the here and NOW — Using information from our senses: What we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell.
But in the fields of mental health, it can be tweaked to reduce anxiety, depression, and PTSD to name a few. Below you will find several brief definitions. Hopefully this will give you a better feel of the otherwise vague term, MINDFULNESS.
(What is Mindfulness? Explained. (20 Definitions That Clarify Mindfulness)
Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley:
“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”
Daniel J. Siege, Mindfulness practitioner and expert:
“Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic, and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences. With mindful awareness the flow of energy and information (that is our mind) enters our conscious attention and we can come to regulate its flow in a new way. Mindful awareness, as we will see, actually involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself.“
Sharon Salzberg, another leader in mindfulness, says:
“Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us by reflecting on the mind’s activities which enables us to make different choices.
It’s about doing so in a certain way – with balance and equanimity, and without judgment. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.”
Research has shown that mindfulness helps us reduce anxiety and depression. Mindfulness teaches us how to respond to stress with awareness of what is happening in the present moment rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motivations are working in the background, driving our decisions. By teaching awareness for one’s physical and mental state in the moment, mindfulness allows for more adaptive reactions to difficult situations.
Anxiety.org asks, Can Mindfulness Really Help Reduce Anxiety?
“A mindful person is reflective rather than reactive. They focus on the present moment.
Mindfulness is a process that leads to a mental state characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present experiences, such as sensations, thoughts, bodily states, and the environment. It enables us to distance ourselves from our thoughts and feelings without labeling them as good or bad.”
How Does Mindfulness Work?
By focusing our attention on the present moment, mindfulness counteracts rumination and worrying. Worrying about the future (e.g. I better remember to pay those bills and clean my house this weekend) and ruminating about the past (e.g., I should have done this rather than that) are generally maladaptive thinking processes. Of course, it is important to learn from our past and plan ahead for the future; however, when we spend too much time outside of the present moment, we can get depressed and anxious. In such cases, mindfulness can be an important tool for helping us to better focus on the present moment.
Mindfulness works through a number of ways. It encourages us to open up and accept our emotions. As a result we are better able to identify, experience, and process our emotions. Mindfulness also encourages us to see things from different perspectives. For example, if your spouse snaps at you, you might blame yourself and worry that you’ve done something to upset them. If you are able to distance yourself from your immediate response of being hurt, you might remember that your spouse mentioned a hard day at work, and perhaps they snapped at you because they’re tired and stressed out. The point is, we are actually lousy mind-readers! But here’s a piece of wisdom I’d like to share — Most people respond or act from a place that speaks more about them than you… This new interpretation could alleviate some of your worry and negative feelings.
The practice of mindfulness has been shown to benefit in multiple ways:
Body awareness: Body awareness is the ability to notice subtle sensations in the body and self-report findings indicate that mindfulness leads to greater perceptions of body awareness. Being aware of your internal emotional state is necessary to being able to better regulate those emotions.
Focused attention: Mindfulness practice improves one’s ability to focus attentionon a present task rather than being distracted by worry. Neuroimaging studies have shown that mindfulness increases activation of the brain involved in attention, executive functioning and emotional self-regulation skills. These skills depend on three sub skills: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. These functions are highly interrelated, and the successful application of executive function skills requires them to operate in coordination with each other.
Self-perception: Mindfulness also changes one’s perspective of self. Buddhist psychology teaches that the self is not permanent and static, but rather made up of ongoing mental events. Two months of mindfulness meditation practices have been shown to increase self-esteem and self-acceptance.
Physical health: Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to produce other health benefits, such as reduced blood pressure and cortisol levels (a stress hormone).
Mindfulness in Practice
There is no big secret behind mindfulness practices. Any activity can become mindful by focusing on the experience of the present moment. For example, you can either mindlessly gobble down your meal or take a little bit of time and practice mindful eating by looking at the food, smelling the food, noticing the different flavors and the texture of the food while slowly eating it. Not surprisingly, it is much more enjoyable and satisfying when you eat mindfully than when you eat mindlessly. Interestingly, you will also notice that you will consume less when you start eating mindfully.
There are many practices that include mindfulness trainings, such as tai chi, yoga, and zen. There are many styles for each of these activities, so it is worthwhile to experiment with different practices until you find one that suits you. As you become more mindful, you will also notice that you will become more centered, happier, and less depressed and this in turn has a direct positive effect on your anxiety.
How to be Mindful Right Now
Focus on your breath for a few minutes. Feel your chest rise and fall, notice the sensation of the breath as it enters and exits your nose. When your mind wanders, simply return your attention to the breath. Focus on the present moment: the here and now. Notice this very moment; it feels good to be alive, right now.
If you don’t immediately feel a complete release of anxiety, remember: most of the benefits of mindfulness require consistent practice. While some changes bolster against anxiety even after one single yoga class, most benefits require practice. And, like any skill, you will need to continue to practice mindfulness after you start to maintain the improvements.
Although more research is needed to illuminate the mechanisms at work, it’s clear that mindfulness allows us to interrupt automatic, reflexive fight, flight, or freeze reactions—reactions that can lead to anxiety, fear, foreboding, and worry.
By bringing mindfulness to our actual experience in the moment, we can increase the likelihood of exerting more conscious control over our behaviors and attitudes. In so doing we learn to work with our intention, wise effort, will, discipline, and capacity to be kind to ourselves. These are all resources that can be harnessed and cultivated.
Beginner’s mind is an aspect of mind that’s open to seeing from a fresh perspective. Meeting anxiety in this way, with curiosity, can play an extremely important role in transforming your experience. When you’re willing to adopt another point of view, new possibilities arise, and this can help you challenge habitual anxious thoughts and feelings.
You can acknowledge that anxiety is present and how much you don’t like it, even as you apply patience and see anxiety as your current weather system, knowing it will pass.
Nonjudgment means experiencing the present moment without the filters of evaluation. In the midst of anxiety, it can be all too easy to experience a secondary layer of judgment on top of the already uncomfortable anxious feelings. Stepping out of a judgmental mind-set allows you to see more clearly. When you let go of evaluations, many sources of anxiety simply fade away. When you feel anxiety, adopting a nonjudgmental stance can reset your mind into a more balanced state.
Nonstriving is the quality of being willing to meet any experience as it is, without trying to change it. With nonstriving, you understand the importance of being with things as they are—being with your experience without clinging to or rejecting what’s there. (Note that nonstriving relates to your present-moment experiences during meditation and doesn’t in any way negate the value of setting a wise intention to grow, learn, and change your relationship to anxiety.)
In the midst of strong anxiety, the first response is often to flee or get out of the situation. If you can pause and really be with your experience without exerting any force against it, you gain the opportunity to know your experience more clearly and choose your response. You can also become less fearful of the physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions that accompany anxiety.