What is mindfulness - woman practicing mindfulness meditation

What Is Mindfulness? Everything You Need To Know

You’ve probably heard the term mindfulness. Your phone or watch probably reminds you to take some time to be ‘mindful’ every day. Everyone seems to be practicing mindfulness meditation those same people are happy to tell you how an eight-week mindfulness meditation practice will transform your life! But what is it?

Mindfulness meditation is being studied by scientists, embraced by boardrooms, and used in classrooms. It’s even making its way into the healthcare industry as a tool for improving mental health. So is it really just another health trend or is there something more to it?

In this blog post, we’ll break down everything you need to know about mindfulness. We’ll explore the history and science behind mindfulness, share some mind-blowing benefits, and provide tips for introducing it into your daily life. By the end of this blog post, you’ll have a much better understanding of what mindfulness is and how it can help improve your overall health and well-being.

What is mindfulness?

What is mindfulness - woman in a field with eyes closed.
What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about being present in the moment. And in simple terms, that just means keeping your attention on whatever it is you are doing at that moment.

It involves focusing on and acknowledging your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment.

Mindfulness encourages you to observe your thoughts as they pass through your mind rather than getting caught up in them.

Mindful practices can help you to become more aware of your emotions and move through difficult emotional experiences in a healthier way.

Mindfulness – from the Ancient East to now

What is mindfulness - Young Buddhist monk walking through a wooden tunnel
What is mindfulness? – The past of mindfulness

The history of mindfulness is long and rich, with its roots in Buddhism, and as a cornerstone of many Eastern philosophies and religions. The practice can be traced back thousands of years, but it has seen a surge in popularity in the West in recent decades.

Historically, mindfulness was used in spiritual practices to bring greater focus and clarity. The idea was that by paying attention to the present moment, you could gain insight into your true self and the world around you.

Today, mindfulness practices have been adapted to suit modern life and have been proven to be an incredibly effective tool for mental health and well-being.

The science behind mindfulness

What is mindfulness - a brain map doll
What is mindfulness? – The science behind mindfulness

Over the past few decades, growing studies have explored the potential benefits of mindfulness, especially in the new field of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) therapy. The findings have been pretty remarkable.

Studies have shown that mindfulness can actually change the physical structure of the brain and improve the connections between neurons.

Studies also show that mindfulness meditation increases grey matter in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and emotion regulation.

Mindfulness also increases grey matter in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functioning skills like planning, decision-making, and impulse control. In addition, mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress.

Overall, studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of your brain and lead to a happier and healthier life.

RELATED: Mindfulness and Stress: How to Stay Calm in a Chaotic World

3 amazing benefits of mindfulness

What is mindfulness? - Man meditating on his bed
What is mindfulness? – The amazing benefits of mindfulness

You might have heard that mindfulness can improve your mental health and well-being, but what specific benefits does it offer? While there are numerous benefits to mindfulness, here are three key benefits that you can experience by incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine:

Reduced stress

Researchers found that mindfulness can help to reduce stress levels. Mindfulness helps to break the cycle of rumination, or endlessly worrying about things that have already happened.

When we ruminate, we’re essentially reliving our stressors over and over again in our minds, which can keep us in a state of constant stress. Mindfulness, on the other hand, encourages us to focus on the present moment, which can help to break the cycle of rumination and allow us to move on.

Mindfulness also helps to reduce stress by increasing our ability to regulate our emotions. When we’re feeling stressed, our emotions can feel out of control and overwhelming. But mindfulness helps us to become more aware of our emotions and learn how to manage them in a healthy way. As a result, we’re less likely to be controlled by our stressors and more likely to recover from them quickly.

Improved focus and concentration

Scientific research has also shown us that mindfulness can have a significant impact on focus and concentration.

This is because mindfulness helps you notice when your attention has wandered off so you can bring it back to the present moment. That repeated “redirecting” of your attention strengthens what scientists call your “attention muscle.” Just like physical muscles, this attention muscle gets stronger with use. As it gets stronger, it becomes easier and easier to keep your attention where you want it.

One study found that after eight weeks of mindfulness training, participants were better able to focus on a task and ignore distractions. Another study found that mindfulness improved working memory and executive attention (which is the ability to plan and organize). And yet another study showed that mindfulness helped people with ADHD sustain their attention for longer periods of time.

What is mindfulness? - Mother and two children meditating on a couch
What is mindfulness? – Mindfulness can help the family stay calm and focus

Better health

Another well-documented benefit of mindfulness is improved health.

Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judgment. This can help us to become more aware of our own self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, and learn how to better cope with stressors in our lives. Over time, this can lead to lasting changes in our brain structure and function, which translates into improved physical and mental health.

For example, studies have shown that mindfulness can help reduce inflammation, improve sleep quality, and even lower blood pressure which can reduce the risk of heart disease. It can also lead to improved mental health – such as reduced anxiety, depression, and stress – as well as improved overall life satisfaction.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is now commonly used in medical centers and hospitals across the world

RELATED: The 5 Most Powerful Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation or Sleep Better with Guided Meditation

3 mindfulness techniques you can practice anywhere

Practicing mindfulness: Woman on a yoga mat practicing mindfulness meditation
What is mindfulness? – Techniques you can practice anywhere

The great thing about mindfulness is that it’s really something you can do anywhere, anytime. Here are three mindfulness techniques you can use to start practicing today:

Body scan

Body scanning is a form of mindfulness that can be done without any special equipment or clothing, and you can do it sitting or lying down. All you have to do is focus your awareness on different parts of your body, starting from the toes and moving up to the head.

Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then, start at the top of your head and focus your attention on each body part, one at a time. Notice how it feels, without passing judgment on whether it feels good or bad. Just observe the sensations. Once you’ve scanned your whole body, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes.

Mindful breathing

Breathing is an essential part of life, and yet so many of us don’t pay attention to it. Mindful breathing is a great way to practice mindfulness in any situation.

Take a few deep breaths and focus your attention on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body. Notice each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the rise and fall of your chest or belly as you breathe.

If your mind starts to wander, gently bring your attention back to the breath. This technique can help you reduce stress and anxiety, and reconnect with your body in the present moment.

Mindful eating

Have you ever finished a meal without tasting a single bite? Mindful eating is all about being present while you’re eating so you can savor each flavor and texture.

Before you begin, take a moment to look at your plate. Notice the colors and textures of the food. Then, as you start eating, focus on the taste and texture of each bite. Chew slowly and savor the flavors. Don’t rush through it – enjoy every bite! Not only will doing so help you be more mindful, but it can also help you to eat less and appreciate your food more.

Rrelated: 5 Surprising Ways Meditation Can Boost Your Weight Loss Journey

Getting started with mindfulness

What is mindfulness - Woman with eyes closed
What is mindfulness? – Getting started

Mindfulness is a skill that takes practice and patience, but it can be done in many different forms. Here are some tips for incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life:

  • Start small – begin with just five minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breath; gradually increase the duration as you feel comfortable.
  • Make time for yourself – schedule regular moments throughout the day where you dedicate time to be mindful, such as during meals or when taking a break from work.
  • Be present – pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells in your environment. Notice how the air feels against your skin or how the ground feels beneath your feet.
  • Speak kindly – talk to yourself with affirmation and understanding when thoughts arise that are unhelpful or judgmental. Stop and take a few deep breaths before responding in situations where you are feeling overwhelmed or triggered.
  • Take notice – pay attention to how your body is feeling during activities such as eating, walking, running, working out, and even while commuting.
  • Make it a routine – the practice of mindfulness can be done at any time. I make my morning ritual of making coffee my daily mindfulness practice. I simply pay attention to all the senses as I make the coffee, and return my attention to the present moment when my wonders. This is enough to have a lasting effect for the rest of the day.

RELATED: How to Establish A Mindfulness & Meditation Habit or The Best Beginner Meditation Techniques

FAQ about ‘what is mindfulness?’

What is mindfulness - Lower half of man sitting cross-legged on a meditation cushion
What is mindfulness? – Mindfulness FAQs

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

The practice of ‘mindfulness’ is the act of focusing the mind on the present moment at any time and doesn’t have any set time constraints. ‘Mindfulness meditation’ is when we set a specific time to practice mindfulness. Find out more here.

What are the 7 principles of mindfulness?

The 7 principles were listed by one of the most eminent mindfulness meditation teachers in the Western world; Jon Kabat-Zinn. He listed 7 principles as part of his mindfulness-based stress reduction program, there were:

  • Non-judging. Be an impartial witness to your own experience. Become aware of the constant stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experience
  • Patience. A form of wisdom, patience demonstrates that we accept the fact that things sometimes unfold in their own time. Allow for this
  • Beginner’s Mind. Remaining open and curious allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise
  • Trust. Develop a basic trust in yourself and your feelings. Know it’s OK to make mistakes
  • Non-Striving. The goal is to be with yourself right here, right now. Pay attention to what is unfolding without trying to change anything
  • Acceptance. See things as they are. This sets the stage for acting appropriately in your life no matter what is happening
  • Letting Go. When we pay attention to our inner experience, we discover there are certain thoughts, emotions, and situations the mind wants to hold onto. Let your experience be what it is right now

Why do they call it mindfulness?

The word itself is about being mindful of whatever you are currently doing. But the inspiration for the word came from the Pali word sati which in the context of meditation means to be fully aware of the present moment.

Is mindfulness based on religion?

Mindfulness meditation has its roots in religious practices but in itself, mindfulness isn’t religious. As we’ve learned, mindfulness is simply the practice of bringing your attention to the present moment.

What are the negative effects of mindfulness?

What is mindfulness - Woman meditating on the top of a rock overlooking a misty valley
What is mindfulness? The negative effects of mindfulness

While there is an extensive list of the benefits of mindfulness meditation, it is still early days for studies into the negative effects of mindfulness. Early exploration into the negative effects of meditation suggests that mindfulness will nearly always improve the quality of life for the practitioner, but where there is deep-seated trauma in the practitioner, any form of meditation practice may resurface these traumas. If you ever feel like mindfulness meditation is causing you distress, stop immediately and speak to a doctor.

The takeaway

I hope you now have a better understanding of what mindfulness is. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mindfulness, as everyone experiences it differently. But with a little bit of practice, patience, and dedication, you can reap the many benefits of this ancient practice. Experiment with different mindfulness techniques to find what works best for you and remember to be kind and gentle with yourself.

Rrelated: The ultimate guide on how to meditate.

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