What Does 'Mindfulness' Even Mean?
Mindfulness. It’s a word we’re hearing more and more nowadays. But what is it? Simple buzzword? Incurable disease? Katniss Everdeen’s ugly cousin? Actually – and you probably guessed it – it’s none of the above.
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, used as a therapeutic technique.”
So basically, it’s kind of a buzzword but also kind of a really helpful meditation technique. Why? Think of it as a simple way to clear your head on a busy day. Like a brain time-out!
Mindfulness is good for both your body and your brain. It helps relieve stress and allows you to let go of negative emotions while also sharpening your attention skills. Aside from a generally improved quality of life, mindfulness practitioners also reportedly have a stronger immune system. What’s not to like?
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So who can do this mindfulness thing? Pretty much anyone, really. With the help of technology, you can practice mindfulness anywhere and at any given time. There are now websites and cellphone applications offering guided meditation sessions to cater to almost any kind of crowd. From the time-crunched mother of 3 to the high school student trying to balance teenage life and studies – everyone can find their kind of mindfulness meditation at the tip of their fingers.
To practice mindfulness you need three things: 1) a quiet place to sit or lay down, 2) a body and 3) a mind. So simple, it’s almost stupid! But wait, what do you do after sitting down? Either you turn on your guided meditation app or you can follow these helpful tips:
- Pay attention to your breathing. Notice how your breath feels coming and going.
- Don’t try to control the speed or rhythm of your breathing, rather noticing and letting it happen instead.
- Do a body scan: starting at the top of your head moving down to your feet, take note of the sensations and notice the weight of every body part as you scan over them. Try and imagine yourself getting heavier and sinking down into your chair and/or cushion.
- Pay attention to your thoughts but don’t dwell on them. Simply let them fly by, like when you’re closing apps on your iPad.
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Having thoughts about kittens or pizza? That’s OK. Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness is not about thinking about nothing. In fact, thinking about nothing is nearly impossible for the average person! The idea is to take notice of your thoughts from a more detached standpoint. This enables you to create distance between yourself and your life events, for example, effectively reducing stress levels related to these events. Treat your thoughts as what they are: just plain old thoughts, just passing through. If you’re still having trouble detaching yourself, you can always sing “Let It Go” in your head. You never know, it might actually work!
Another myth is that you need a lot of free time to practice mindfulness. Not true. You can actually do it for as little as 5 minutes and still enjoy some of its benefits. Obviously, you’ll most likely benefit more from mindfulness if you do it for longer periods of time. Is it possible to do too much mindfulness? Well, if it takes away from spending quality time with your loved ones or causes you to stop showing up for work, then yes. Otherwise, go nuts!
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And if you don’t want to spend time sitting around or if meditation isn’t really your thing, there are still ways that you can practice mindfulness in your daily life. Just as you would take notice of your body parts and your breath, take time to become fully aware of situations that you would normally take for granted during your day. These situations could be:
- Your first sip of coffee
- Walking to the bus stop on a rainy day
- Finishing a task early
- Eating a healthy lunch
- Singing your favorite song in the car while stuck in traffic
In those moments, take notice of your surroundings. Appreciate the sounds, smells, tastes and emotions associated with them. It’s really as simple as that!
Now aren’t you glad mindfulness isn’t an incurable disease?!
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