Everyone is talking about mindfulness these days, amiright?
But is it all just some woo woo celebrity fad? Or is there really something to this mindfulness business after all?
Spoiler alert: I’m a pretty big fan of mindfulness. It helped me manage life when I was living with a terrible chronic illness and is something I practice now almost daily. In this article, I’ll aim to give you a better idea of what mindfulness is and why you might want to give it a try!
Where does mindfulness come from?
To begin to understand mindfulness, we need to understand the roots of the practice. While many religions and cultures have practiced forms of mindfulness and meditation, most of what we practice in the west is based on Buddhist teachings. Yoga, which can be a mindful form of movement, originates in the Hindu religion.
Mindulness practices have now been brought into the secular world. One of the founders of mindfulness in the west is Jon Kabat Zinn. He studied mindfulness from a medical perspective. He found that people were better able to manage pain, cope with illness, and recover faster, when they participated in an 8-week program. Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as: “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.
While many people around the world practice yoga and meditation as forms of religious devotion, most people in the western world practice yoga and meditation to improve their health and become more self-aware.
What exactly is mindfulness?
“Prayer is you speaking to God. Meditation is allowing the spirit to speak to you.” – Oprah
Breath. The foundation of mindfulness is the breath. How often do you think about breathing or notice your breath? For most people, the answer is rarely, despite the fact that you breathe in and out about 20 thousand times a day! The beginning of most mindfulness practices will begin by guiding you to focus on your breath and breathing. Your breath is a great place to focus because it is an automatic function. If you try to hold your breath your body will pass out and begin breathing again- but unlike a heartbeat or digestion, you can control the length and pace of your breath.
Attention. Paying attention in the moment is another pillar of mindfulness. While thoughts may run through your mind, you can choose to guide your attention back to the present moment. Meditation is not about ‘clearing your mind’ it’s about choosing what to pay attention to.
Non-judgement. While you are choosing to focus your awareness on the present moment. You may notice thoughts, feelings, or senses coming up. You might want to judge those things for example “my shoulder feels bad today, I wish I hadn’t said X, those cookies tasted good”, etc. It’s natural for us to interact with the world through judgments. It helps us remember what we like or dislike, or what makes us feel good or bad. But a part of mindfulness is to try to welcome each sensation without judging it. Noticing your thoughts and feelings without feeling overwhelmed by them. After all, they’re not facts – they’re just thoughts!
Non- striving. This is one of my favourite principles of mindfulness! Non-striving doesn’t mean we don’t want to try to achieve things. It means that in mindfulness, the goals you set are about the journey, not about the outcome. You’ll keep your goals based on what you can control, rather than something you hope will happen. For example, if you make a goal to lose 10 pounds that’s not something you can control! You can’t force your body to lose 10 pounds. But, if you set a goal to east 7 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, that’s a goal you can achieve.
Types of mindfulness
“I need to find a way to always feel safe and at home within myself. Because I can never rely on a physical place.” – Emma Watson on becoming a yoga instructor.
Meditation. This can involve sitting, standing, or lying down meditation. It can be guided or done on your own. Simple meditations focus on your breath, while more complex forms of meditations may include visualisation, full body awareness, and more.
Yoga. Yoga is a popular form of movement that combines the breath, stretching, and strengthening movements. It is said that original forms of yoga came about to keep monks healthy and strong after sitting so long during meditation!
Other mindful movement. Other forms of exercise like Tai Chi or Chi Gong can include mindfulness. Really, you can make anything from walking to rock climbing mindful if you focus on the present moment!
Everyday mindfulness. Everyday mindfulness means being mindful in everyday activities like taking a shower, or getting dressed, rather than a specific mindfulness practice.
Benefits of mindfulness
“Yoga gave me relief like nothing else; it made me a better person and a better mother. I could come back to my daughter anew.” – Miranda Kerr
Why are people practicing mindfulness?
- Studies show that students who meditate before an exam perform better than students who do not.
- Mindful practices can improve concentration helping you perform better in school, sports, or the creative arts.
- Mindfulness can help you feel more present in the moment and improve your interactions and relationships with your friends and family.
- Big findings from the Mindfulness-based interventions done by Jon Kabat-Zinn have seen links to mindfulness and the reduction of the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression.
- Mindfulness-based eating can help end harmful relationships with food and body image that cause eating disorders and poor eating habits.
- Mindful movements like yoga or tai chi can help you strengthen and stretch the body to keep your muscles and joints strong and healthy.
- Many people report feeling more alert or clearheaded after a mindfulness practice. I like to call this the ‘yoga brain’ a feeling of calm alertness.
At its core, mindfulness is simply a way to stay focused in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety while increasing concentration and performance. For something that you can practice from your bed each morning, the benefits sound pretty great to me!
You can read all you want about mindfulness, but the best way to understand mindfulness is to give it a try. Asking someone to define mindfulness is kind of like asking, “What does chocolate taste like?” Or “What does your favorite song sound like?” Definitions can only give you a small idea of what the real experience is like. Just reading on mindfulness is like reading the menu at a restaurant and not getting to taste any of the food!
If you’re interested in seeing what this mindfulness thing is really about, here are a few places you can try for free or little money:
The headspace app for 10 minutes of mindful meditation a day.
Insight timer for a variety of meditative practices and music.
Audible yoga for yoga you can download and take with you anywhere.
Kayla Kurin is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Aroga Yoga.
She helps people living with chronic illnesses find relief through yoga. Kayla is on a mission to help others live healthier and more fulfilling lives through mindfulness.