As an ancient spiritual practice, mindfulness can be traced back to Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In recent years, the practice has become increasingly popular in the Western world, drawing attention from scientists interested in helping people cope with and overcome life’s challenges.
But what is mindfulness, and how can it help you? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Mindfulness?
Put simply, mindfulness refers to our ability to stay in the present moment. In this busy, fast-paced world, this ability is easier said than done. Do you regularly find yourself lost in your thoughts, distracted from what’s happening around you? You’re not alone. With everything happening around us, it’s easy to lose focus and detach from our surroundings.
Mindfulness brings you back to the current moment. It helps you become more present, aware of your surroundings, and engaged in the activities you’re doing. In doing so, it also helps to reduce feelings of overwhelm and to change how you respond to issues or challenges that arise.
There are different types of mindfulness practice that can help us maintain contact with the present moment. These include:
- Mindfulness meditation, which can be guided or unguided
- Mindful body scan, which focuses on bringing our attention to our body and how it feels in the present moment
- Mindful movement often centred around activities like yoga, tai chi, or qi gong
- Mindful breathing exercises, bringing our attention to the breath
This list isn’t exhaustive, however, and regular mindfulness practice can take many forms — it’s about finding what works for you.
How Does Mindfulness Work?
In recent years, scientists studying mindfulness have made some exciting discoveries. These studies have helped us understand more about how mindfulness works and why it can be so powerful.
Some of the fascinating discoveries centre on the impact that regular mindfulness can have on the brain. These findings suggest mindfulness can change the structure of the brain itself, which likely contributes to the many benefits experienced by people who practise mindfulness.
For example, one study found a reduction in the size of the amygdala — the part of the brain involved in stress response — in people who practise mindfulness. In contrast, another study found that areas of the brain responsible for attention and thinking were larger in those people as well.
These findings suggest mindfulness may directly influence the brain, which in turn affects how we think, feel, and behave.
Mindfulness can also help us respond to life’s challenges by training us to become aware of them — without allowing them to take over or dominate our thoughts. It helps us practise the art of letting go of things beyond our control. We can then work on accepting our current situation regardless of any difficulties we may be facing.
Depending on the type of mindful activities chosen, it can also activate the relaxation response — a powerful antidote to the stresses of the modern world.
What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can improve your life in many ways. Here are some of the key, science-backed benefits we’ve experienced with our clients:
Handle Stress Better
Too much stress is one of the most popular reasons people begin to experiment with mindfulness. As mentioned, the practice can help activate the relaxation response, which triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to halt the stress response.
Mindfulness practices that are based on meditation, breathing exercises, and mindful movement are particularly effective.
Reduced Anxiety or Depression
Research consistently links mindfulness to reduced anxiety or depression symptoms in people with these mental health conditions.
These findings have led to the recognition of mindfulness as a third-wave approach to treatment for these conditions, often adopted alongside traditional therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
One study suggests mindfulness achieves this by reducing rumination — the extent to which people become lost in their negative, self-critical thoughts. By encouraging people to observe their ideas in a non-judgemental way, they are better able to stay in touch with their surroundings and minimise the impact of depression or anxiety.
Do you find yourself struggling to focus on essential or meaningful activities? Mindfulness can help with that too.
One of the central aspects of mindfulness involves training your mind to stay focused on what’s in front of you. This ability translates well to focus and concentration, enabling you to bring your attention back to the task at hand whenever distractions tempt you.
As mentioned, studies of the brain have found that mindfulness can change the structure of areas of the brain responsible for attention and focus. This suggests that improved focus may also occur as a result of these physical changes.
To summarise, a regular mindfulness practice equips us with the skills necessary to handle whatever life throws at us. We can’t always change what happens to us, but we can work on how to respond. With the right support, it’s possible to experience the many benefits of mindfulness in our own lives.
Do you want to know more? Get in touch to arrange a chat with one of our trained mindfulness practitioners.