Mindfulness is the latest philosophical and spiritual movement to capture the Western imagination. But like many trends in modern society, a seemingly good idea appears to be overhyped as a cure all, purportedly delivering a myriad of health benefits including the alleviation of some psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression.
But what exactly is mindfulness and how can we best understand it in its authentic form? A good place to start is to settle on a definition of the term ‘mindfulness’.
What is the definition of mindfulness?
A good working definition of mindfulness comes from Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn who says, “mindfulness is paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose in the present moment without judgement“. This is a seemingly simple statement that actually contains some very profound basic principles. Another way of understanding mindfulness is to become the silent observer of ourselves – observing the present moment without accepting or rejecting it.
Paying attention sounds superficially very easy, until we realise that we have arrived at work without having paid conscious attention to any moment of our drive. Spending time in the present moment is also less common than it appears. Pause for a moment to think of how much time we spend mulling over the past (regrets) or planning for the future (anxiety), and how little time we actually spend in the experience of being here now.
The third element, non-judgment, can also be elusive. We love to sort things into good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, for us or against us. It is rare to merely meet an experience without judging it.
What does mindfulness look like? How can I learn to be mindful?
A simple way to look at mindfulness is as a way to train the mind. It is more of a process than an actual product. It can be thought of as the deliberate practice of cultivating presence and turning off autopilot.
It is not about escaping reality, achieving bliss, or an altered state. It is about being fully present to reality.
The best way to learn mindfulness is to practice it. An excellent analogy is that everything that one can learn about the taste of a banana in a 20-week seminar is completely eclipsed by one bite.
The ‘one bite of mindfulness’ or the experiential knowledge gained in the practice of mindfulness is far more beneficial than multiple training sessions in the theory of mindfulness.
The Science behind Mindfulness
Multiple analyses and reviews of the scientific literature on the practice of mindfulness reveal a mounting body of evidence showing that mindfulness can enhance emotional self-regulation and positive emotional states. A number of studies have also shown that mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations.
Two recent trials published in Science Advances also support mindfulness practices. The first found mindfulness-like attention training reduces self-perceived stress, but not levels of the hormone cortisol, a commonly used biological gauge of stress levels. The other trial links mindfulness-like attention training to increases in thickness of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with complex behaviour, decision-making and shaping personality. Further research into what this means clinically is required.
What is in it for me and how do I integrate it into my everyday life?
It is an opportunity to be more fully present in one’s life. Cultivating the qualities of presence and non-judgement in the present moment can be revolutionary.
Here are 11 things you can incorporate into a busy schedule that can help you stay calm, centred and attentive to the present moment
Be conscious of what you put in your bodies – so often, we shovel food into our mouths without paying any attention to what we’re eating and whether we feel full. Make a practice of listening to your body – consciously nourish yourself with healthy foods, prepared and eaten with care. Mindful eating is all about taking your time, paying attention to the tastes and sensations, focus fully on the act of eating and eating-related decisions (Mindful Eating is an important part of the nutrition program at Como Diagnostic and is a philosophy that we fully embrace – for more information contact us on 03 9826 4300 or email us email@example.com).
Take a walk – yes as simple as that.The act of walking in a peaceful outdoor landscape triggers “involuntary attention,” meaning that it holds attention while also allowing for reflection.
Turn daily tasks into mindful moments – mindfulness starts to get really interesting when we can start to integrate it into everyday life. Remember, mindfulness means to be present, in the moment. And if you can do it sitting on a chair, then why not while out shopping, drinking a cup of tea, eating your food, holding the baby, working at the computer or having a chat with a family member or friend? All of these are opportunities to apply mindfulness, to be aware.
Engage in your favourite creative practice – whether it’s baking, doodling, or singing in the shower, and see how your thoughts quiet down as you get into a state of flow.
Pay attention to your breathing – when you bring attention to your breathing your mental discourse just stops. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath.
Become a unitasker – multitasking is the enemy of focus — many of us spend our days in a state of divided attention and near-constant multitasking, and it keeps us from truly living in the present. Focus on one task completely for a given period of time, and then take a break before continuing or moving on to another task.
Have a healthy relationship with your digital devices – set (and keep) specific parameters for usage
Pay attention to your media ‘diet’– take care not to feed your mind with “junk food” like excess television, social media, mindless gaming and other psychological empty calories. (Too much time on the Internet has been linked with fewer hours of sleep per night and an increased risk of depression.
Spend time outdoors – spending time in nature is one of the most powerful ways of giving yourself a mental reboot and reinstating a sense of ease and wonder.
Feel what you are feeling – mindfulness isn’t about being happy all the time. It’s about acceptance of the moment we’re in and feeling whatever we feel without trying to resist or control it
Meditate – you can be mindful without meditating, but all the research and experts tell us that meditation is the most sure-fire way to become more mindful. A regular practice can help to reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and boost well-being.
At Como Diagnostic we see the practice of mindfulness as an essential strategy for helping our patients learn to focus and re-set their lifestyle priorities especially in relation to their nutrition. In fact it is hard to think of any aspect of our lives in which mindfulness would not be of benefit.
For more information on how mindfulness can help your re-establish your nutrition and lifestyle priorities phone us on 03 9826 400 or email us firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is general in nature only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. For further information please contact our clinic or your own medical practitioner.