The term, “mindfulness” seems to be everywhere — it’s touted as the new yoga, the answer to stress, or the alternative to prescription drugs. But beyond the buzz, do you understand the concepts of “mindfulness”?
With this fact sheet, the authors aim to provide a definition of mindfulness, share some of the benefits of practicing mindfulness, provide samples of simple exercises, and provide resources to explore.
Credit: Debra Bolton, Charlotte Shoup Olsen, and Donna Krug, Everyday Mindfulness, Fact Sheet, Kansas State University, July 2018
A common concern of people relates to a misconception that “mindfulness” ties to particular religions. Remember, meditation has its origin dating back thousands of years and may be included in religious practice. At the same time, “mindfulness” sits comfortably in secular circles. Does mindfulness have to be a spiritual practice? Certainly not. The fact that many traditions — religious and secular, spiritual and philosophical — come back to these fundamental practices of compassion and awareness suggests that mindfulness remains part of the human experience.
Seven principles serve as the basis for mindfulness. Each can help you act skillfully and not emotionally in stress situations:
» Non-judging: Be a neutral observer to each experience.
» Patience: Allow each experience to emerge at its own pace.
» Beginner’s mind: Avoid bringing in what you know to the current moment and try experiencing it as if it is the first time.
» Trust: Believe in your intuition and your ability to see things in a new way.
» Non-striving: Avoid the need for winning or losing or striving for a purpose — it is about “being” and “non-doing.”
» Acceptance: See things as they are in the present moment.
» Letting go: Take the time to detach from your usual feelings and thoughts.
Mindfulness should not be considered a “cure-all.” However, science suggest that practicing mindfulness creates changes in brain function as well as changes in the body’s response to stress. The practice of mindfulness may have an important impact on physical and emotional health. Mindfulness helps to improve work-life balance. When we look at the dominant cultural patterns of the United States, we find that we value dominating nature, being goal-bound, controlling the future, being involved in constant activity and action with no time to “sit and talk,” being autonomous, and being individualists. With that as a dominant cultural pattern, when do we have time to be mindful? Many people look for relief from their worries. Sometimes this stress presents physically, such as a stiff neck or headache. A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found evidence of the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions for pain in varying degrees. Another group of researchers compared the positive effect of mindfulness on depression to that of anti-depression medications — without the side effects. The practice of mindful meditation proved effective in reducing stress and improving overall well-being. One study from Loyola University of Maryland showed that people who meditate tended to recover more quickly from stressful events. Other benefits that come from a regular meditation practice include: » Increased ability to relax. » Improved concentration. » Increased energy and enthusiasm for life. » Increased creativity. » Increased self-awareness. » Improved self-esteem. » Improved work/school performance
One study from Loyola University of Maryland showed that people who meditate tended to recover more quickly from stressful events. Other benefits that come from a regular meditation practice include:
» Improved concentration.
» Increased energy and enthusiasm for life.
» Increased creativity.
» Increased self-awareness.
» Improved self-esteem.
» Improved work/school performance.
Try these steps to help achieve mindful relaxation:
1. Commit to an uninterrupted time each day to practice a mindful meditation. Begin with as little as 5 minutes. Many benefit from increasing meditation time to 20 minutes or more.
2. Choose a quiet place away from any technology.
3. Find a comfortable body position — in a chair or sitting comfortably on the floor.
4. Focus on your breath flowing in and out.
5. Let any negative thoughts float away like clouds.
Try breathing techniques: When people feel stress they tend to take short, shallow gasps of air. The resulting lack of oxygen restricts blood flow and causes muscles to strain. As deep breaths increase, the heart rate slows and blood pressure lowers, which breaks the stress cycle. You may choose any time or any place to think about your breathing — even stopped at traffic signals waiting for the green light or standing in line to buy groceries.
Use imagery: Imagery exercises work with or without a facilitator. A common imagery practice invites you mentally to picture yourself in a quiet, calm setting. Take note of how this setting encourages your body and mind feel calm and relaxed.
Add body exercises: Sit in a chair or lie on the floor. Put your arms above your head and stretch as high as your arms and shoulders allows. At the same time, stretch your legs and feet as your body allows. Then focus on one side of your body and repeat the stretching on the other side. Now stretch the right arm and left leg followed by stretching the left arm and right leg. Finish the exercise by starting at the top of your head and consciously relaxing your scalp and facial muscles. Move on down your body, consciously relaxing each part of your body until you reach your toes. Continue to sit or lie in this relaxed state for a few moments.
When it comes to everyday mindfulness, remember to practice, practice, practice! Some people like to team up with a mindfulness group to get started. If you find that inconvenient or uncomfortable, start with breathing exercises and gradually add more movement as you explore ways to relax your body and mind.