What is Mindfulness? Mind Full or Mindful?

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we are doing and thinking while not being overly reactive, judgmental or overwhelmed by the activities around us. 

 Mindfulness is a process that leads to a mental state characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present experiences, such as sensations, thoughts, bodily states, and the environment. It enables us to distance ourselves from our thoughts and feelings without labeling them as good or bad.

Are you stressed out, can’t focus, dwell in the past, or feeling overwhelmed? You may want to learn how to practice mindfulness.+

By focusing on the present moment, we are not worrying about the work that should have been completed previously or what needs to be done in the future. The mindful nonjudgmental focus on the present helps to alleviate anxiety and depression according to research at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Mindfulness teaches us how to respond to stress with awareness of what is happening in the present moment, rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motives may be driving that decision.  Mindfulness allows for more adaptive reactions to difficult situations.

Mindfulness works through a number of ways. It encourages us to open up and accept our emotions so that we are better able to identify, experience, and process our emotions. It also encourages us to see things from a different perspective.

Whenever you bring awareness to what you are directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you are being mindful.

The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes. A mindful person is reflective rather than reactive. They focus on the present moment.

The Mayo Clinic describes mindfulness as a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.  Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.

Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, day dreaming or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. Practicing mindfulness exercises can help you direct your attention away from this kind of thinking and engage with the world around you.

Meditation has been studied in many clinical trials.  According to the Mayo Clinic, the overall evidence supports the effectiveness of meditation for various conditions including:  stress, anxiety, pain, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure (hypertension). Meditation can help you experience thoughts and emotions with greater balance and acceptance. It can also improve attention, decrease job burnout, improve sleep, and improve diabetes control.

The Mayo Clinic also suggests some simple ways to practice mindfulness. Some examples include:

  • Pay attention. It is hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take time to experience your environment with all of your senses—touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it.
  • Live in the moment. Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.
  • Accept yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.
  • Focus on your breathing. When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.

These simple mindfulness exercises can be practiced anywhere and anytime. Research indicates that engaging your senses outdoors is especially beneficial.

For more structured mindfulness exercises including body scan meditation, sitting meditation or walking meditation, you will need to set aside time when you can be in a quiet place without distractions or interruptions. You might choose to practice this type of exercise early in the morning before you begin your daily routine.

After practicing mindfulness every day for about six months, you may find that mindfulness becomes effortless. Think of it as a commitment to reconnecting with and nurturing yourself.