We hear a lot about the word “mindfulness”. But do we know what it really means to be “mindful”? Can being mindful actually improve our health and well being? Perhaps. So let’s take a look …
We hear a lot about the word “mindfulness”. But do we know what it really means to be “mindful”? Can being mindful actually improve our health and well being? Perhaps. So let’s take a look at what this activity is about, and how it could help us improve our outlook on life, and consequently, our health in general.
There a several definitions for the word “mindfulness”, but I found that there are reoccurring themes within those definitions. Ideas such as “active awareness”, “purposeful attention”, “being in the present moment”, etc. As I explored “Psychology Today’s” website, I thought that their definition of mindfulness made the most sense to me, and I’m paraphrasing, but this is the gist of their definition, that mindfulness is the practice of active attention. That we purposefully bring our awareness to the present moment without any judgement or criticism. To just “be” in the moment of where we are and what we’re doing. So, the two main ingredients of mindfulness, according to Psychology Today, are awareness, the knowledge and ability to focus our attention on our inner processes and experiences, and acceptance, to simply observe things as they are without subjectivity. So, we can’t appreciate the “now” if we’re experiencing fears or anxieties either about the past or future.
Being mindful, I’m learning, can help us cope with uncomfortable emotions, understand them, and gain control of unhelpful thoughts and feelings. There’s a saying that goes something like this, “If you’re experiencing feelings of depression, sadness, anger, and regret, you’re living in the past. If you’re experiencing feelings of anxiety, fearfulness, and stress, you’re living in the future. Either of these feelings cheats you out of the ‘presence’.”.
Researchers can’t make a definitive judgement as to whether or not the practice of mindfulness actually lowers stress levels and contributes to overall health and wellbeing of people who incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives, due to the fact that emotions and feelings are subjective. One person may report that taking up some type of mindfulness practice has improved their health generally. Another person may report no change one way or another. However, some generalities may be drawn in feedback based on responses of people who have adopted some type of mindfulness discipline into their daily routine.
Mindfulness awareness has helped some folks cope with the social isolation that affected all of us during the COVID response. Mindfulness has also helped some people with going over and over in their minds old thoughts of resentment, bad memories, feelings of unfairness, and being cheated out of something. In general, learning how to let go of thoughts and emotions that no longer serve well to come to feelings of peace and understanding of past situations.
Mindfulness has proven to help with the breaking of bad habits, if you will, or trying to incorporate more goal-reaching or positive change in one’s life. Habits can be broken down into triggers, behaviors, and rewards. Let’s take overeating for example. Let’s say that a trigger for someone is knowing there’s a chocolate cake in the fridge. This sets off the behavior of eating that cake, and the reward is eating something delicious. The problem becomes drawing the line between wanting chocolate cake, yet not eating all of the chocolate cake! There’s a phenomenon in human behavior and human awareness that is unique to us, and that is the ability to make choices. So, between the stimulus, chocolate cake, and response, eating the chocolate cake, lies choice. The choice would be based on what we feel is important to us, and what would help us achieve a goal. We could think of mindfulness now as an “intervention” that allows us to pause, and either refrain from eating chocolate cake, or being satisfied with a small portion of it because we’ve decided that a goal of our’s is weight release, or eating less sugar, etc. Our new “reward” has become what we decide it to be, and mindfulness can help us take a breath, be in the moment of choice, and act or not act according to our “higher self”, and our higher priorities. Mindfulness gives us the presence of mind, and the attention needed to avoid “knee jerk” reactions that habits create. We replace a habit that no longer serves us well with one that does, sort of like keeping your “eye on the ball” in real time.
There are many ways to begin practicing mindfulness. There are classes, meditations, activities such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, even mindful walking, and reading literature regarding how to begin to incorporate mindful awareness and attention into a daily routine. Sometimes just a good deep breath can help slow things down enough to take a “pause for the cause”. Our minds enjoy “exercise” just as much as our bodies do. Holistic health incorporates “all” of us, mind, body, and spirit. We feel better when minds, bodies, and spirits are in a balanced state. Mindfulness practice may be one way to help us obtain a healthy equilibrium. Cheers!