How many times have you felt like you're not concentrating enough? That you haven't really enjoyed the moment? I bet thousands of times. Well, mindfulness is here to prove that it is much more than a fancy buzzword.
The word "mindfulness" has been here for a while now, and though it might sound quite trendy and interesting, some people don't really know what it really is.
Let me paint you the picture: You're doing a task and suddenly, without you realizing it, you're on a different task. Reading without paying attention to words and meaning, scrolling through social media while having lunch or even spending time with your family.
That's the purpose of mindfulness. To create awareness, attention and focus on the present moment.
People tend to keep their minds on the past or constantly planning for the future, which when practiced too much becomes a huge source of stress.
What is mindfulness then?
Mindfulness is the process of cultivating our ability to be attentive to present experience (whether thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations), awakening from behaviors that are routine or automatic.
It’s easy to confuse mindfulness with other concepts, but…
It is not meditation
Mindfulness can be considered as a state of mind based on being aware of the present moment; meditation techniques will serve as pathways to this state. Whilst meditation is something you do for a set amount of time, mindfulness can be practiced constantly.
It has nothing to do with religion
Although the origin of mindfulness is based on Buddhist teachings, you don't need to practice this religion or any other to practice it. Meditation based on mindfulness has been proven and validated through extensive scientific research as a practice that trains the ability to pay attention, without any spiritual or religious background involved.
Mindfulness is not about being calm
We often expect mindfulness will bring us calm and relaxation. But mindfulness is just about noticing whatever experience we're having, including all the thoughts, feelings or physical sensations that are a part of it, even the unpleasant ones.
The benefits of mindfulness
It allows us to train the capacity of concentration, reducing mental distraction and increasing self-knowledge and self-awareness.
It promotes the development of empathy, compassion and patience. It allows us to enjoy the present moment. Reduces or avoids impulsivity, regulating emotional responses. Encourages different attitudes such as learning not to judge and not to hold on to things and feelings.
How to be more mindful?
Notice the everyday. Pay special attention to common practices. Focus on the temperature of the shower you’re taking or the aroma of your perfume, the people on your commute or the taste and textures of your food. Avoid looking at your phone or the TV when doing some of these things.
Daily habits. You can start by closing a particular time to try and be more mindful, like your morning coffee. Leave all the other things aside and focus on that moment. Extrapolate from there.
Try something new. Something as simple as switching your regular lunch spot can contribute to being more mindful. Notice the new surroundings, all the details around you and try to stop the “monkey mind” as much as you can. That is, don’t think about what’s going to happen after lunch or what happened before it. Just enjoy the moment.
One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it helps you reduce anxiety.
Some tips to reduce anxiety
Mindfulness exercises help you to reduce anxiety, although the objective of the technique is not relaxation itself. Its purpose is to be able to keep attention focused on the present moment, without trying to judge the experience or value it as good or bad, thus allowing to reduce anxiety indirectly.
There are several treatment programs that incorporate mindfulness. These treatments, which have their differences and variations, are carried out by psychologists trained to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.
Mindfulness exercises to reduce anxiety
To begin, direct your attention to the breath. Don't try to control or change it, just direct your attention to it. Notice how air enters and leaves through your nose, how your lungs and abdomen swell. Experience that feeling, fully focusing on it. As long as you can keep your attention on your breath, your mind will be free from worry.
One of the main problems with anxiety is the excessive focus that is given to the physical sensations caused by the activation. In this exercise, instead of directing attention to things that happen internally, try to bring it outward. Any external stimulus can be used (the sound of the telephone, the song of a bird, the noise of a car...) to focus attention on where it appears. Try closing your eyes and capturing everything that is happening around you, concentrating to detect sounds.
If it is difficult for you, you can use music. Before the music, you can try to focus on one instrument only, following it throughout the song, paying attention to the melodies and rhythms that it sets… Have you achieved it? Has the experience changed? All right! You can do this same exercise with any activity, like watching a movie or reading a book.
You can also do it by focusing on the activity you are doing at the time, such as walking, cooking, or playing basketball. The activity itself does not matter, the goal is that you can attend at will wherever you want, without your mind going from one place to another without meaning, putting the automatic pilot.