Today I’d like to talk to you about mindfulness and the benefits of practising it. First off, you might be asking what exactly is mindfulness. You may have heard the term being thrown around but never fully understood what people meant by it. You may have a fair idea of what it is. You may have never heard the term before. Either way, sit back and all shall be revealed.
According to Google, mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It’s that simple, being mindful literally means being aware of your surrounding environment and, some would say more importantly, being aware of your own condition. Until we actively practise mindfulness, we don’t even realise that we are being mindless. It’s only when we consciously take the time to think about how we feel, that we realise how long it’s been since we last took the time out to just sit back and do nothing.
The fast paced society that we live in is great at keeping us busy. We are forever rushing about the place, always connected, always entertaining ourselves in some way, shape or form. I look around me when I’m on the bus in the morning and (I think you know where this is going!) even though I am surrounded by people who are just sitting, that’s not all they’re doing, God no! It’s a rare occurrence these days to see somebody sitting on a bus and ‘doing nothing’. Doing nothing, think about that for a second, when was the last time you sat down and ‘did nothing’? I bet you didn’t think that question would be so hard to answer!
When we take the time to stop scrolling down our newsfeed and just sit back and let our minds wander, we are actually really benefiting ourselves. The benefits of being mindful are really something else altogether! Here’s a quick run through of some of them.
Being mindful allows you to fully embrace life as it’s presented to you. When you are fully present, you are better able to enjoy the pleasures in life as they occur, you can better engage with the activities you take part in and you are better prepared to deal with any adverse events that may occur throughout your day. Mindful people are less likely to get caught up in worries about the past or anxieties about the future, they are less preoccupied with concerns about self-esteem or ego and they are better able to form deep connections with the people they meet as they go about their day.
Improved Physical Health
The physical benefits of mindfulness include, but are not limited to relieving stress, reducing chronic pain, lowering blood pressure, treating heart disease and most importantly in my case, improved sleep.
Improved Mental Health
This is probably the most profound area of benefit associated with mindfulness. Over the last decade or so, psychotherapists have turned to mindfulness meditation to aid in the treatment of a large number of mental health problems including; depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders and even obsessive-compulsive disorder. It makes a lot of sense for mindfulness meditation to be of benefit in these cases as psychotherapy (especially cognitive behavioural therapy) is about helping the patient become aware of their irrational, self-harming, negative thoughts, i.e. being more mindful of their thoughts.
Okay, so now that I’ve told you all about the benefits of being mindful, I’m sure you’re thinking ‘Great, but how do I do it?’ Well I’m glad you asked! I’ve found that the best way to improve mindfulness is through mindful meditation. I’ll be writing an article in the next week or so talking about my experiences with meditation and how I’ve benefited from it but in the mean time, there are many many ways of being more mindful in your day-to-day life.
I never used to have very much time in the mornings to get a proper breakfast into me so I often just grabbed a piece of fruit or a slice of toast to munch on while walking to the bus stop. That was fine and all, but now that I’ve begun to get up much earlier, I have the time to prepare myself a nice plate of scrambled eggs and sit and enjoy my food in the morning. And here’s where the mindfulness comes in. I don’t sit there with my phone out, scrolling through the newsfeed. I don’t think about what I’m going to be doing later neither. I just live in the moment, I take my time and consciously think about every bite, noticing my hunger fading and my body feeling more and more nourished. This may seem a bit weird or out of the ordinary, but the act of being mindful is a skill in itself and by practising it while eating breakfast, I’m enabling myself to be more mindful in situations when it really matters.
Working with Focus
This is one that I’m currently working on improving myself (with the help of StayFocusd) and I’m already noticing substantial differences in my productivity levels. It’s simple, pick a task and do it. Don’t do anything else until it’s done! I mean it, no tabbing out to ‘check Facebook’. No flicking over to YouTube to pick another song to listen to while you work (if you must listen to music like you work, set a playlist going and leave it!). When you mix work and leisure simultaneously, you never really finish either one. Stop thinking about how many likes your latest status update might have and just do the work. Facebook will still be there when you finish your work and since you’ve been away from it for awhile, there may actually be something interesting for you to check out when you do finish the work! When you set your mind on one task and focus solely on that, you are improving your mindfulness and getting important shit done at the same time! What is there to lose?
Reading a Book
You might be thinking that I sound a bit old fashioned by telling you to read a book but the benefits of this in terms of mindfulness are incredible. In today’s fast moving society, we consume so much information but it is all in small portions. Our attention spans are getting smaller and smaller thanks to technology (from 12 to 5 minutes in the last 10 years), meaning we have less focus than the past generations. Sitting back and reading a book requires that you focus your undivided attention on one thing for an extended period of time, so go do it! It’s not that bad, I swear! You may find that you actually enjoy using your imagination instead of consuming video content.
In conclusion, I’d like to note that mindfulness isn’t so much an activity that we have to make time for. Instead, I’d like you to think of it as a way of being. It’s a way of going about everything else that we do in life, just with a little more presence. You may find it difficult at first to focus on your thoughts and feelings but I implore you to resist the urge to dive for your phone next time you’re sitting on a bus. Just sit and think about how you feel. Let the thoughts flow through you, acknowledge them but don’t go off on a tangent acting out scenarios of the future in your head. Be aware of the thought, let it pass and return to being aware of how your body and mind feel! When you are truly present in the moment, that is when you are really living!