Mindfulness has become a popular concept in the US in the past decade leaving many to wonder just what it is and what it does. Mindfulness is basically paying attention to the present moment without judgement. Perhaps a simpler way to describe mindfulness is to compare it to mindlessness. When we are mindless we are basically behaving in autopilot mode. For example, you might be eating chips and find yourself at the bottom of the bag without being aware of how much you ate or what it tasted like or maybe even driving somewhere and not being aware of how you got to our destination. Basically our thoughts are in the past or future and not in the present moment. As modern life has become faster and we have become used to multitasking and being connected to technology 24/7, incorporating Mindfulness into our lives can help us reduce stress and enjoy fuller and healthier lives.
One reason that Mindfulness has become increasingly mainstream is the strong evidence based research supporting the benefits. Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor, scientist and teacher at the University Of Massachusetts Medical Center developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) in 1979 as an experiment to see if cultivating a mindfulness practice would reduce the chronic pain in cancer patients. The results were overwhelmingly positive and demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health attitudes and behaviors. His MBSR program brought Mindfulness to mainstream medicine and now is widely used in hospitals, schools, prisons, military bases and community centers.
The benefits are many and well documented.
The physical benefits are:
- Reduction in physical pain and increased ability to handle pain
- Reduction in high blood pressure
- Better sleep
- Treats heart disease
- Improves GI symptoms
The mental benefits are:
- Reduction in stress
- Better concentration
- Reduction in anxiety or depression
- Improved relationships
- Help with substance abuse
- Help with eating too much or too little
- Regulates emotions
- Greater life satisfaction
Incorporating a Formal Mindfulness practice can take as few as 5 minutes a day and can be as easy as sitting quietly, breathing and allowing your thoughts to come and go without judging them as right or wrong, good or bad. Mindfulness is a practice so consistency is important and it is helpful to find a time and place that work for you daily. It can also be informally practiced by bringing our full attention to the present moment on a walk, washing dishes, driving our cars or in conversation.
There are many apps, books and workshops available to help you structure a practice that works for you.