An Introduction to Mindfulness and Its Benefits

Behaviour, Mental Health | July 19, 2016 | Author: Naturopath

An Introduction to Mindfulness and Its Benefits

People can be hesitant to explore mindfulness because it is not often described in straight forward terms, so let’s get this out of the way: Mindfulness is not some abstract concept with “magical” or “new age” undertones. It actually describes a state of mind that is very achievable and easy to comprehend. The mindful state is one that focuses on the present. Simple enough right?

Being in the Here and Now

shutterstock_357828941Few could deny that we have a bad habit of obsessing over the past and future. That’s not to say that some reflection and planning aren’t useful in life, but the problem is that we do it to the point that our connection to the present suffers. If we are stuck in the past or future, then we can’t appreciate or have an effect on the now, which is the only part of life that we can actually impact with any degree of certainty.

Human perception of time is a tricky thing because our memory and ability to predict (whether or not those predictions are accurate) give us the false impression that the past and the future are as real as the present. It’s pretty easy to see how wrong that idea is when it’s put into context.

Obviously the past is gone and the future hasn’t happened. Still, our brains can be pretty convincing. Memories are prone to corruption and it has not been proven that we can predict the future exactly , so any thoughts we have about either time period are unlikely to be accurate.

It’s a daunting realization, but no reason to panic. Mindfulness is not founded on making us distrust our minds.
The aim is to simply recognize that these influences exist, so that we can learn how to get around them when they are interfering with the present.

How to Practice Mindfulness

The most commonly suggested mindful practice is meditation. Unfortunately, like mindfulness itself, meditation is a concept that is often met with resistance because it comes off as being more complicated than it actually is. There are indeed very complex forms of meditation, usually based on a rich history of Buddhist literature, but there is no reason that you should have to adhere to such a strict system in order to benefit from the concept in everyday life. Traditional meditation involves concentrating on a single idea, action or sensation and blocking out the rest. This requires scheduling periods of time in spaces that won’t interfere with the process, which is a reason that many people may not be able to meditate. Luckily, we can avoid such issues by identifying the most important aspects of the practice and using them to guide our every-day lives. Focus and awareness are the core components of meditation. To be mindful, we need to focus on the present by being aware of the impact that memories and predictions can have on our perceptions. There are many examples of how this approach can be implemented, here are a few:

People often underestimate their capabilities because they focus on failures of the past without accounting for the things they have learned since. Being aware of their current selves rather than relying on memories will allow people to reach their full potential in the present.

Emotions often fuel our responses to situations because they are intricately linked with past experiences. If we feel a negative emotion, then we assume that whatever triggered it (let’s say a comment by a friend) was bad. Taking a mindful approach would place focus on the present, so although the emotion will still be felt, we’ll be more likely to respond to the comment based on its actual content.
Interactions with our immediate surroundings may seem unremarkable because we are desensitized by memories of previous environmental experiences.

A tree is just a tree if you think of it as something you’ve seeshutterstock_94936297n a million times, but it becomes something else entirely when you view it as a unique, living, breathing organism that has never been exactly like it is in the present, and never will be again.

Potential Benefits of the Mindful State

The above examples should give you a couple of hints of the many benefits that can result from the adoption of a mindful perspective. In all honestly, the potential gains are enormous. Practitioners of mindful meditation have long touted these benefits, but now they are being applied to modern lifestyles and verified by research. Some examples are:

• Perhaps most expectedly, there are a host of psychological benefits associated with mindfulness. The most dramatic effects may be due to the reduction of stress that is associated with maintaining a focus on the present (Eberth & , 2012).

• Physical wellbeing is also enhanced as a result of mindful practice. A good example can be found in a 2016 study (May et al.) which shows that mindfulness is directly associated with improvements in several measures of heart health.

shutterstock_152179922• Mindfulness is known to support increases in productivity in a variety of settings. For example, classroom productivity has shown to be measurably enhanced after teachers participated in a mindfulness course designed to prevent burnout (Flook et al., 2013).

• An important way that mindfulness can potentially save lives is by preventing people from being distracted by things like text messages (Panek et al., 2015).

Whether driving, walking or even eating, failing to pay attention to the immediately present environment can lead to injury or death very easily, especially in today’s electronics addicted world.

Consistency is the Key

The largest threat to reaching and maintaining a mindful perspective is a lack of consistency. This is why regularly scheduled meditation sessions are always a good choice if possible, as they are a way of guaranteeing that you are regularly practicing. Still, even if you can fit meditation into your schedule, the goal should always be permanent mindfulness. 

shutterstock_157434872To achieve consistency, we should aim to replace our bad mental habits with repetitive “checks”  to ensure that we are being mindful of the present. Do you feel an emotion? Then do a mindfulness check before you react. Are you about to perform in some capacity? Make sure you’re mindful of your capabilities to enhance confidence.

Developing this tendency will ensure that you can benefit from mindfulness throughout all aspects of life, leading to improved wellbeing and an enhanced sense of happiness.

References

Eberth, J., & Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The effects of mindfulness meditation: A meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 3(3), 174-189. Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., Bonus, K., & Davidson, R. J. (2013).

Mindfulness for teachers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout, and teaching efficacy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(3), 182-195. May, R. W., Bamber, M., Seibert, G. S., Sanchez-Gonzalez, M. A., Leonard, J. T., Salsbury, R. A., & Fincham, F. D. (2016).

Understanding the physiology of mindfulness: Aortic hemodynamics and heart rate variability. Stress, 19(2), 168-174. Panek, E. T., Bayer, J. B., Dal Cin, S., & Campbell, S. W. (2015).

Automaticity, mindfulness, and self-control as predictors of dangerous texting behavior. Mobile Media & Communication, 3(3), 383-400.

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