Mindfulness, mindfulness everywhere! This month it made the cover of a special edition of Time Magazine for a second time—a repeat of the January 2012 cover—and has gained much attention around the world, particularly in the last 10 years. But, mindfulness is nothing new… in fact, it has existed for millennia, and throughout history practitioners have been documenting the benefits from their direct experience. Both the persuasion of some of its most learned practitioners like Mattiue Ricard, Jon Kabbat Zin, and Ellen Langer, and the rapid growth in popularity have spurred much scientific research that shows profound benefits of the practice. The golden standard of most of these studies is 20 minutes per day over 8 weeks. While this doesn’t seem a very quick-fix, studies show that the outcome is well worth it. So what is mindfulness, why should you care, and what are the benefits?
Mindfulness is essentially a state of mind which can be fostered or enhanced over time with practice. When you become more mindful, your mind is less full of racing thoughts, you’re able to hold your awareness more steadily in the present moment on the current activity at hand, without judgment, and therefore with less adverse reactivity. For example, ever read the entire page of a book only to get to the end and have no idea what you read? Or, have you found yourself feeling incredibly frustrated that the kids won’t brush their teeth or finish breakfast in time to get to school and suddenly your heart rate is high or you’re yelling?
In a nutshell, mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening outside of you and staying aware of how you’re reacting to it on the inside, mentally, and thus emotionally, and physically. Because, as yoga and other Eastern philosophies have been teaching for thousands of years, your state of mind ultimately has a huge impact on how you behave and on the level of happiness you experience in life, and, as it turns out, on your physical health as well, proving that there truly is a mind-body connection.
Scientific research is showing benefits of mindfulness that are undeniably amazing. Benefits like (click link for study):
- Slowing the aging process
- Boosting immune system
- Reducing stress, related disease and re-engineering the brain
- Improving focus and memory
- Enhancing happiness
This is just a partial list of benefits the practice provides. So how do you do it? There are a myriad of ways to practice mindfulness, the crown jewel being meditation. You can also pause for several slow deep breaths, go for a relaxing walk (without your cell phone), take mindful movement like yoga, or enjoy mindful eating (without your cell phone or computer). The point is that you should take a practice in which you can fully direct the focus of your mind into the activity and avoid multi-tasking. The Buddhists say, “If you eat, just eat. If you walk, just walk.” When you focus your mind on one thing, it becomes very clear when other thoughts or emotions come up, which you observe without defining as good or bad, thereby disengaging from or practicing non-attachment to them. Over time you learn to hold your awareness in the chosen direction for longer periods of time, as well as break the habitual pattern of latching on to passing thoughts or distractions, or fueling the fire of emotions, eventually able to remain more stable or equanimous in all situations.
The promise is big. But again, it takes PRACTICE! Below, you’ll find links to several mindfulness practices which can help you along your journey. Begin as soon as you can, practice consistently or as often as you can, and please be patient with yourself. One of the biggest habits we’ll probably have to break is how reactive or judgmental we can be to ourselves. Shanti and peace.
Try this 10-Minute Mindfulness Meditation:
Some of my favorite presentations:
1. Mattiue Ricard on The Habits Of Happiness
2. Ellen Langer on Mindfulness Over Matter
3. Jon Kabat-Zinn on Meditation