The Benefits of Mindfulness, and What It Actually Means
Many of us have set intentions to be more mindful in the New Year. The term has caught on more recently, and just in the last decade, an increasing number of people have Googled the word “mindful” for more information on the topic.
Mindfulness isn’t anything new, even though it’s very trendy right now. Let’s talk about how mindfulness can help us, its purpose and benefits, and how to incorporate more of it into our lives.
And we’ll also answer an important question:
What Is Mindfulness?
Let’s first consider what mindfulness is NOT. The opposite of mindfulness would be acting mindlessly-what we think of as going on auto-pilot. And it’s something we all do, especially when our days (and brains) are full. Many people talk about coming out of a brain fog, after realizing they’ve driven all the way home without being completely aware of what they were doing or where they were during their usual commute.
Mindfulness is also different from relaxation or resting your body-although sometimes these can work in tandem with mindfulness. I think of a mindfulness practice as focus — a focus on being fully present. In the moment. Our attention is directed to ourselves.
Mindfulness means completely experiencing the moment you are in with all your senses.
For some, the idea of focusing like this can be intimidating. Some periods of life can be stressful, which can cause the mind to race. That can make being in the moment a challenge, especially if you’re always thinking about what’s left on your to-do list or the appointment you’ve got tomorrow.
And that’s what I love about mindfulness. Being mindful and in the present moment can look different for everyone. Activities like meditation, walking, or breathwork are all great ways to practice mindfulness and experience its potential benefits.
Science of Mindfulness Benefits
“Although the practices of mindfulness and meditation are thousands of years old, research on their health benefits is relatively new, but promising,” according to Harvard’s Mindfulness and Meditation Center. Yogis and spiritual practitioners have long understood the importance of a regular mindfulness practice, through meditation and other mindfulness-based methods. And there is a good reason why practices like meditation have been taught for centuries now: mindfulness can improve your health and wellbeing.
Slowing down and being in the moment can activate important processes in your brain and body. “Meditation is thought to work via its effects on the sympathetic nervous system, which increases heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure in response to stress,” according to Harvard. The benefits of practicing meditation helps to calm the nervous system, which provides profound benefits to our wellbeing.
Activities like yoga, walking, and meditation do more than reduce stress. “True, it will help you lower your blood pressure, but so much more: mindfulness can also help your creativity, your intuition, your connection with your inner self,” says Burke Lennihan, a registered nurse who teaches meditation at the Harvard University Center for Wellness.
Studies suggest that students who practice mindfulness perform better in school. In fact, those who make time for mindful behavior report “being less stressed than they had been before the mindfulness education, and better able to practice self-control,” writes Grace Tatter for Harvard.
The Practice of More Intentional Living
It’s easy to understand why using mindfulness appears more popular than ever. And since the impact of mindfulness and it’s benefits, it has become an industry just like any other. You’ve probably seen memes, apps, and online mindfulness groups that give us plenty of ways to practice mindfulness and intentionality on a regular basis.
Next, I’ll discuss more about how to build a mindfulness training practice into your own daily habits. If you’re looking to get a meditation practice started, head over to Insight Timer, where I offer free meditations and live mindfulness exercises regularly. You can check out my library of mindfulness meditation sessions here.
Follow me for more on mindfulness and how to practice.
Originally published at https://katharinechestnut.com on January 5, 2023.