Mindfulness: How can it benefit our health?
Published Jul 24, 2021 • By Courtney Johnson
Stress seems to have become a facet of our daily lives. In fact, studies have found that up to 8 in 10 Americans feel stressed in the day-to-day. In a constant search to find new ways to cope with stress, many are turning to non-medicinal methods, such as mindfulness.
But what is mindfulness exactly? How can it benefit our health and how can we incorporate it into our daily lives?
We answer these questions and more in our article!
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, also known as mindfulness meditation, is a type of meditation focused on purposely bringing one’s attention to the present, observing the senses and emotions without judgment or interpretation.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist and Hindu traditions and draws particularly from the Buddhist concept of “sati”, which, approximately translated from the ancient Indic language Pali, means awareness, attention, and being mentally present.
Mindfulness in practice encompasses two central concepts: awareness and acceptance. Awareness corresponds to the knowledge and capacity of focusing attention on one’s inner mental processes and experiences, namely the experience of the present moment. Acceptance is the ability to observe and accept, rather than judge and avoid, that flow of thoughts.
This practice was brought to light in Western culture and medicine by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor emeritus of medicine who studied mindfulness under a number of Zen Buddhist teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Philip Kapleau. While teaching at the University of Massachusetts medical school in the late 1970s, Kabat-Zinn developed an 8-week program, Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), designed to help with chronic stress, anxiety, pain, and depression. He found that patients would often try to avoid their mental or physical pain and that this avoidance would engender deeper anguish. Mindfulness-based intervention proved to be an effective method for patients to cope with their stress.
With time, mindfulness was incorporated into traditional science and medicine and became a revolutionary therapeutic technique, serving as a base for Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and other therapies.
How can mindfulness benefit our health?
Mindfulness is an excellent alternative treatment option for a variety of conditions due to the many benefits it provides. A growing body of research has shown that mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety and stress, improves focus and memory, and encourages empathy and emotional self-regulation.
A study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital found that mindfulness meditation can modify the brain’s gray matter and cerebral regions involved in memory, regulation of emotions, and sense of self.
Early research has also indicated that meditation can help patients living asthma and fibromyalgia. Studies have also proven mindfulness meditations’ ability to improve overall quality of life for both chronic patients and members of the general population.
How can we incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives?
In today’s fast paced world, it can be difficult to take the time to slow down and be present. However, the good news is that incorporating mindful activities into your daily life is simpler than it may seem!
Here are a few mindfulness activities that you can try in your everyday routine:
During our lunch break from work or when we get home from work, it can be second nature to reach for the TV remote or to scroll through our phone. Mindless eating can also contribute to a number of issues, like overeating or consuming too much salt or sugar.
Next time you sit down for a meal, pay attention to each bite you take. Chew slowly and savor the taste. What textures, aromas, and flavors are you experiencing? Being mindful when we eat can help us to recognize the body’s signals for when we are getting full and to pay better attention to what we’re putting on our plates.
If you’re nervous or unsure about how to get into mindfulness, music can be a great gateway to meditation. To practice, pick a song, grab your headphones, and find a comfortable position to listen.
How does your body feel as you listen to music? What different sounds or instruments do you hear that you may not have noticed before? How does your breathing change with the tempo of the song?
Walking is another easy way to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Give it a try while you’re walking to work, strolling around your neighborhood, or on your next visit to the park.
What sounds are you hearing – local traffic passing by, nature sounds, children playing? What does the surface you’re walking on feel like under your feet? What do you observe around you?
Not only are puzzles a terrific way to keep our mind in shape, but they’re also a great way to practice mindfulness. Puzzles, be it jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, word finds, riddles, or even sudoku, require that we focus and give attention and presence of mind. Not to mention that they’re also rewarding and fun to do!
Arts & crafts
As with music and puzzles, engaging in our creative side can help to get you out of your head and into your body. Be it doodling, adult coloring, crafting, or art therapy, working with your hands and observing textures, shapes, and colors can help you to observe your body, your surroundings, and the present moment.
Body scanning is one of the most effective ways to start engaging in mindfulness meditation and may help you to release stress and tension you may not even realize you’re holding. Body scanning involves tuning into to the body and mentally scanning from head to toe, observing your breath and how each part of the body is feeling.
If you’d like to get started, here’s a guided, 30-minute body scan meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn and the Center for Mindfulness:
Like it sounds, single-tasking is the opposite of multitasking: engaging and focusing on one task at a time.
This can be particularly helpful when working on the computer, where it can be easy to flip between browser tabs and lose track of what you’re doing. Though it may be hard, make an effort to close all tabs or applications that aren’t pertinent to the task you’re working on. This can help you to clear your mind and focus on the task at hand.
To take it further, think about:
- How you’re breathing as you work
- Your posture and how you’re sitting or standing
- How your body feels as you sit or stand
Was this article helpful to you? Are you interested in incorporating mindfulness meditation in your daily life?
Share your thoughts and questions with the community in the comments below!