The human mind is naturally restless, and is constantly analyzing, comparing, and questioning. On average, people have between 35 and 48 thoughts per minute. These thoughts regularly devolve into regrets about the past, anxiety related to the future, and judgements about the present. The goal of mindfulness is to quiet the chaos.
But what exactly is mindfulness? And how can it be achieved?
Mindfulness is the state of being fully engaged in the present moment, without judgment. It involves observing what’s happening in an open and curious way, without labelling things as “good or bad,” and without trying to change anything. It also involves noticing the thoughts and feelings that arise, and being a witness to them, rather than identifying with them.
Mindfulness has many benefits, the most obvious being that it lowers stress levels, and protects against depression and anxiety. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase creativity, improve emotional regulation, and enhance emotional intelligence. Additionally, it seems to have physical benefits, such at easing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
There are countless ways to practice mindfulness, but a good starting point is to set aside a few minutes to focus on your breathing. Find a quiet, comfortable place, either sitting in a chair, or lying flat on your back. Become aware of your breath as it enters your body, and fills your belly, and then follow the breath as it exits your body. Notice thoughts as they enter your mind, but aim to bring your attention back to your breath. Allow your breath to anchor you to the present moment. If you occasionally become swept away by a current of thoughts, that’s to be expected; simply come back to focusing on your breath when you notice what has occurred.
If you prefer, rather than relegating your mindfulness practice to a designated time and place, it can be incorporated into your daily life. For example, while washing the dishes or taking a walk, focus on exactly what is happening in the moment, without judgment. Aim to include all five senses to fully ground yourself in the present. If you’re washing dishes, for instance, notice the sensation of the warm water, smell the lemon-scented soap, hear the water flowing from the faucet, and so forth. Many people sleepwalk through life, so mired in their thoughts that they are minimally aware of what’s happening from moment to moment. Mindfulness helps to awaken people to the full experience of life.
Of course, don’t expect perfection with your mindfulness practice. Some days, you may easily get into the ‘flow,’ but on other days, engaging in mindfulness may feel difficult. Be gentle with yourself, and stay with it. The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will become.
Think that mindfulness might be for you? Try out this guided meditation exercise: