The Basics of Mindfulness

The Basics of Mindfulness

Living in the moment is mindfulness. But, let me be clear, it is not the same as living for the moment. 

Living in the moment is being aware of your present. Intentionally and deliberately paying attention to every detail of the moment, without thinking about how to finish your presentation, what food to prepare for dinner, who will pick up the kids, etc. 

It is like sitting on a bench in a park surrounded by lush greenery. Living in the moment will allow you to notice the colour of the bench, the engraved names on the bench, the whispering sound of the wind, rustling of the leaves, dry leaves falling off the trees and watching them get blown away by the soft wind. Enjoying your moment of quiet, in comfort and self-indulgent idleness. 

These moments of mindfulness don’t take hours. Mindful activities should only take about ten to twenty minutes a day. But the benefits mindfulness does to the mind and body cannot be trivialised.

Living for the moment, on the other hand, is carefree living. You live without care for the future. 

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS IN SIMPLE TERMS?

Wikipedia defines “mindfulness” as the practice of purposely bringing one’s attention in the present moment without evaluation.

Cambridge dictionary defines mindfulness as “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.”

According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness is the “awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings.”

And Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the proponent of  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), defines mindfulness as the “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

WHY DO I HAVE TO PRACTISE MINDFUL ACTIVITIES?

In some of my previous posts, I have cited studies from neuroscientists on the power of our thoughts. There are studies on how repetitive thoughts become part of our temperament, which later become our traits. If a repetitive thought can be that powerful to result in changes in our personalities, imagine the damage negative thoughts can do to our minds and bodies.

Dr. John Kabat-Zinn is a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.

His research dealt with the benefits of mindfulness in healing physical health symptoms and psychological distress.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn endorses mindfulness practise to train our minds and bodies to pay attention. 

WHY IS MINDFULNESS IMPORTANT AT WORK? 

  1. Primarily, mindfulness helps people focus on the task at hand and eliminate time-wasting activities. 
  1. Relating with people “non-judgmentally” allows people to work harmoniously and averts conflict. A negative working environment results in damaging mental health problems like depression and anxiety. WHO reports an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression. 

In an experiment on the role of mindfulness in emotional reactivity, experienced mindfulness practitioners were found to be able to quickly disengage from an emotionally charged situation. 

  1. Reduces errors at work, which in many cases results in work-related accidents, especially in manufacturing settings. 

When you find yourself getting anxious about events at work (or at home which creeps into your mind during work hours), try the STOP mindfulness technique. 

STOP stands for Stop (or pause), Take a breath, Observe (your body, thoughts, experience, emotions, and surroundings), Proceed (with more consciousness). 

This technique allows you to detach from the situation, enables your brain (amygdala) to process your stimuli, and then (prefrontal cortex) gives you the appropriate action to take. 

WHAT ARE THE BEST MINDFUL ACTIVITIES YOU CAN PRACTISE?

One fundamental mindful activity is BREATHING. If you think it is easy, think again. With all the chatter and clutter in one’s mind, to quietly pay attention to your breathing can be one major challenge. 

The challenge is to focus your mind on the process of breathing – slowly taking in air through the nose when you inhale, imagining the air passing through your windpipes and then to the lungs, causing the lungs to inflate like a balloon and then exhaling the air. Repeat.

When a montage of things starts to occupy your mind during the process, and you find your mind lingering and wandering, immediately push the thought aside and bring your mind back again to your breathing. 

A study showed that mindful breathing enhanced error-monitoring in the brain, also known as performance monitoring.

Another simple mindful activity we can practise is mindful EATING. This can be so easily neglected, especially when we are in the company of friends and family. We eat and talk at the same time, giving very little attention to the process of eating. I remember a friend who chatted away while eating, and when his family talked about how scrumptious the pasta was and asked him how he found it, he said he didn’t know how it tasted but showed traces of the pasta on his plate. He had to go back to the buffet table to get a second serving and validate his family’s comments. This time he was mindful of the taste and agreed with his family. Imagine doubling the calories just because he was not mindful. 

Another friend burned her lips because she stuffed the food in her mouth while chatting with her husband, not noticing the food was hot. 

When you eat mindfully, you will be conscious of the texture and colour of the food, the aroma, taste, and the temperature of the food. Eat slowly to savour every bite. Eating slowly allows the satiety hormone in your stomach to send signals to your brain when you are full. This process takes 20 minutes from the time you start eating. This results in less eating. 

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With intentional mindfulness, you observe and hold all judgements. You observe other people and understand them better, you observe your surroundings and become more careful, and you observe your body and understand its processes.

WHAT ARE THE OTHER BENEFITS OF PRACTISING MINDFUL ACTIVITIES?

  1. Lower blood pressure 

A nine-week Mindfulness-based Blood Pressure Reduction program used mindfulness techniques to enhance attention control, emotion regulation and self-awareness of both healthy and unhealthy habits in 43 participants who exhibited significant improvements in self-regulation skills and significantly reduced blood pressure readings.

  1. Weight control

A study was conducted in 2011 to explore the use of mindfulness intervention in reducing cortisol and abdominal fat among obese women due to stress eating. According to the results, “the intervention was successful in increasing mindfulness and responsiveness to bodily sensations, reducing anxiety and eating in response to external food cues, and tended to reduce eating in response to emotions.” 

  1. Enhanced focus through reduced mind-wandering

Mind-wandering is the shift of attention and thoughts from one task to other unrelated tasks. A study showed improvement in reading comprehension even from a brief 15-minute mindful breathing exercise. 

TAKEAWAY

Practise mindfulness in three ways: 

One, be aware of your moment. 

Two, be non-judgmental of yourself and others. 

Three, keep your mind from shifting away from the task at hand.

Living in the moment allows a person to respond appropriately to his new situation or task at hand, and enables one to make a headway effectively by deactivating crippling thoughts of the past. 

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