Mindfulness, a concept practiced as early as the fifth century BC, has recently experienced a revitalization, perhaps an explosion, in our modern culture. But what is it exactly and why is it important? At its most basic, mindfulness refers to the practice of paying attention, being in the present moment and remaining open-minded. The practice itself has been linked with lower rates of depression and increased clarity, both of which are vital in today’s fast-paced world.
Mindfulness is a meditative technique that has been shown to reduce depression, increase clarity, reduce chronic pain and ward off anxiety. What’s more, it’s easy to do. Let's look at how to begin this important practice.
Three Types of Mindfulness
While mindfulness is all about being in the moment, paying attention and being nonjudgmental, it is also open to interpretation. Here are three areas of mindfulness, as presented by Psychology Today:
- Not taking things for granted
- Returning to the present moment
- Self-regulation of attention, along with curiosity, openness and acceptance
In other words, being mindful means cultivating gratitude, staying grounded and paying attention. But the tricky part is to also be open and accepting of any lessons or revelations received while practicing mindfulness. Of course, this breakdown does make it sound simple, doesn't it? Yet, it's not as easy as this simplistic view may suggest. Practitioners stress this is a practice—something to work on and to gradually improve.
The Importance of Mindfulness
In a stressful, hurried society, mindfulness is of utmost importance. According to The Harvard Gazette, mindfulness can combat both physical and mental conditions, including fibromyalgia, psoriasis, anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. In fact, some sources suggest that people practicing mindfulness meditation may receive as much relief from their symptoms as patients pursuing other treatment options.
Meditation also has a profound effect on the brain. It brings about actual physical changes in the brain, a thickening it would seem, and this may affect how the brain functions in a very good way. The changes may result in feelings of increased happiness, peacefulness and contentment.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Those who have never practiced mindfulness before often find it’s not that difficult to get started. To begin, write down the goal that you would like to achieve through mindfulness. Next, set aside at least 5 to 10 minutes per day to meditate. (The time can be increased as focus improves.) Guided meditations, with the help of an app or audio recording, may help in the early stages. The goal is to slow the breath and clear the mind. When distractions arise, let them slip away. Strive to stay aware of the breath.
Other practices involve staying aware of the moment throughout the day. For those prone to worrying or anxiety, this can be tricky but it helps to come back to the breath even without a long sit-down session.
Nightly gratitude sessions before bed can also help to remind us all just how lucky we are, how much we have to be glad about, and despite the challenges we may face, we can come back to the present and be glad of more than we are usually aware of.
If you crave peace, contentment and happiness (and really, who isn't?) mindfulness may be the way to get it. Mindfulness may also be useful in combating depression, chronic pain and anxiety. Set aside at least five minutes per day to practice mindfulness and you may be surprised at the benefits that begin to accrue. If you’re not sure what to do, there are apps that will help guide you through your sessions, so let's all get started.