What is mindfulness?
December 2, 2016

Mindfulness is the psychological process or state of mind achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. When you’re mindful you calmly acknowledge and accept your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations from a distance, without judgement.

In this busy world of ours, we are constantly being pulled around. Our thoughts and emotions are being scattered, leaving us feeling stressed, anxious and exhausted. Most of us don’t have five minutes to sit down and relax. We don’t have 30 minutes or more for a meditation session. But it is essential for our wellbeing to take a few minutes each day. We need to cultivate mental training to achieve a positive mind-body balance. One of the best ways to do it is to start practicing mindfulness. When we start applying these meditation techniques, just for few weeks, this can bring a variety of physical and psychological benefits.

Benefits of mindfulness for your health

Several studies have found that mindfulness increases our positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Some research has found that it has positive impact on our brains, our density of gray matter increases. Specially in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy. Also, it helps us focus. Studies suggest that these techniques help us tune out distractions. It improves our memory and attention skills. With regular practice of these meditation exercises, rather than being led on auto-pilot by emotions  or influenced by our negative past experiences and fears of future occurrences, we develop the ability to root the mind in the present moment and deal with life’s challenges in a clear-minded, calm, assertive way.

Few mindfulness exercises you can try right now
1. Breathing

This exercise can be done standing up or sitting down, pretty much anywhere and at any time. All you have to do is be still and focus on your breath for minute or two. Start by breathing in and out very slowly. One cycle should last for approximately 6 seconds. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, letting your breath flow effortlessly in and out of your body. Let go of your thoughts for a minute. Let go of things you have to do later today. Simply let yourself be still for one minute. Purposefully watch your breath, focusing your senses on its pathway as it enters your body and fills you with life, and then watch it work its way up and out of your mouth as its energy dissipates into the world.

2. Observation

This exercise is simple but very effective. It is designed to connect us with the beauty of the natural environment, something that is easily missed when we are rushing on the way to work. Choose a natural object from within your immediate environment and focus on watching it for a minute or two. This could be a flower or a tree, or even the clouds. Don’t do anything except notice the thing you are looking at. Simply relax as long as your concentration allows. Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Visually explore every aspect of its formation. Allow yourself to be consumed by its presence.

3. Awareness

This exercise is designed to cultivate a heightened awareness and appreciation of simple daily tasks and the results they achieve. Think of something that happens every day more than once; something you take for granted, like opening computer to start work. Take a moment to appreciate the hands that enable this process and the brain that facilitates your understanding of how to use the computer. These touch point cues don’t have to be physical ones. For example: each time you think a negative thought you might choose to take a moment to stop, label the thought as unhelpful and release the negativity. Choose a touch point that resonates with you today. Instead of going through your daily motions on autopilot, take occasional moments to stop and cultivate purposeful awareness of what you are doing.

4. Listening

This exercise is designed to open your ears to sound in a non-judgmental way. So much of what we see and hear on a daily basis is influenced by our past experiences, but when we listen mindfully, we achieve a neutral, present awareness that lets us hear sound without preconception. The idea is to just listen, to become fully entwined with the composition without preconception or judgment of the genre, artist, lyrics or instrumentation.

5. Immersion

The intention of this exercise is to cultivate contentment in the moment and escape the persistent striving we find ourselves caught up in on a daily basis. Rather than anxiously wanting to finish an everyday routine task in order to get on with doing something else, take that regular routine and fully experience it like never before. For example: if you are cleaning your car, pay attention to every detail of the activity. The idea is to get creative and discover new experiences within a familiar routine task.

6. Appreciation

In this last exercise, all you have to do is notice 5 things in your day that usually go unappreciated. These things can be objects or people – it’s up to you. The point of this exercise is to simply give thanks and appreciate the seemingly insignificant things in life; the things that support our existence but rarely get a second thought amidst our desire for bigger and better things.

(Exercises are extracts from book by Alfred James, Pocket Mindfulness.)

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