Mindfulness: A Beginners Guide

What is Mindfulness?

I can honestly say that I talk with most, if not all, of my clients about mindfulness. It is often a coping tool that feels foreign at first, but can be so helpful in our day to day life. Over the years I have heard some common misconceptions regarding mindfulness. I have heard... "isn't that a Buddhist thing," or "I don't have time to sit for hours." Both of these statements, though I understand why people may have this idea, are just not true.

By definition mindfulness is.."the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something or a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations..."

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the moment.
— Lao Tuz

In other words, mindfulness is simply a state of awareness. It is really about tapping into what is happening IN THE NOW. Allowing yourself to be present can help shift your mind, specifically disengaging yourself from excessive rumination or overthinking. 

Another way to think about it is that we often are living in the past (e.g. "why did I do that") or in the future (e.g. "I need to clean the house, do the laundry, etc"). Sometimes living in the past and future can be helpful, but when we hang out there too long that is where it becomes problematic. This often causes some kind of pain (i.e. anxiety, sadness, apprehension, regret, etc). Being IN THE MOMENT, allows us to step outside of our head, and just take a second to pause and soak in what is CURRENTLY around us. 

Mindful.org offers a few reasons why you should start today: 

  • Anyone can do it. Mindfulness practice cultivates universal human qualities and does not require anyone to change their beliefs. Everyone can benefit and it’s easy to learn.
  • It’s a way of living.  Mindfulness is more than just a practice. It brings awareness and caring into everything we do—and it cuts down needless stress. Even a little makes our lives better.
  • It’s evidence-based. We don’t have to take mindfulness on faith. Both science and experience demonstrate its positive benefits for our health, happiness, work, and relationships.
  • It sparks innovation. As we deal with our world’s increasing complexity and uncertainty, mindfulness can lead us to effective, resilient, low-cost responses to seemingly intransigent problems.

Let's Look at the Research

UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center compiled a brief summary of the benefits mindfulness has on an individuals mind, body, and well-being. Let's take a look...

1. The Brain & the Body: A 2003 study focused on how an 8-week training course would affect the brains and immune systems of individuals. This provided some evidence of increased activation in a region of the brain correlated with positive affect (a.k.a. feeling happy), as well as evidence that the immune system would react more robustly in antibody production (a.k.a. help you fight disease) after meditation training (Davidson et al., 2003). 

2. Relationships: A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study showed a correlation between mindfulness practice in couples and an enhanced relationship. The couples reported improved closeness, acceptance of one another, autonomy, and general relationship satisfaction (Carson et al, 2004). 

3. Education. A study of first and third grade children that involved a 12-week program of breath awareness and yoga showed improvements in children's attention and social skills as well as decreased test anxiety in children who went through the training as compared to the controls (Napoli, Krech, & Holley, 2005).

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mindfulness research. The American Psychological Association discusses benefits that include: improved self-control, objectivity, affect tolerance, enhanced flexibility, equanimity, improved concentration and mental clarity, emotional intelligence and the ability to relate to others and one's self with kindness, acceptance and compassion.

So, how do I start?

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There are lots of ways to start. One simple way, is just to start becoming more aware. For example, maybe you eat at your desk for lunch. Why not try to step outside, even if it is just for 5 minutes. Take a walk. Just notice what is around you. Maybe the color of the sky, the cracks in the pavement, the trees, notice the sole of your foot on the pavement or grass or even take notice if anyone is around you. WARNING: Your mind will start wandering (because that is just what it does), but it is perfectly normal and ok. Don't judge yourself. Just bring yourself back into the moment. It definitely takes practice, but I promise, with any practice brings great rewards. Here are a few mindfulness helpers...

  1. Download the Headspace app
  2. Try a 3-Minute Body Scan
  3. Practice mindful Brushing (and yes, I mean teeth brushing)
  4. Use YouTube to guide you through a 5-minute mindfulness exercise 

Don't get me wrong, it can definitely be hard at first. And it may even feel a little weird. But just take notice of how you are feeling before incorporating a mindfulness exercise and then again after. Most likely you will notice some differences, maybe even some positive differences. 

Enjoy the present...

 

::: Disclaimer: Please note, the information offered on this website/blog is not, nor is it intended to be, therapy or psychological advice, nor does it constitute a client/therapist relationship. Please consult a mental health provider for individual support regarding your own personal health or well-being or call 1-800-950-NAMI for resources and support. :::