Mindfulness 101

Mindfulness is a state of being conscious of your surroundings, thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment. When you practice mindfulness, you experience the moment at hand with greater awareness and appreciation, without becoming distracted or overwhelmed.

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

A consistent mindfulness practice has potential to impact your quality of life. Benefits include decreased stress,1 increased resilience,2 reduction of anxiety and depression symptoms, and improved general health.3 A recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health showed that mindfulness meditation can also relieve persistent pain more than standard treatments.4 Whether it’s through meditation and breathing practice, or bringing awareness and gratitude to the present moment, you can see positive results through consistent practice.

How Do I Practice Mindfulness in Daily Life?

Mindfulness is available to you in every moment, and can be practiced no matter your circumstances. Try these steps the next time you have a few minutes to yourself.

Observe the present moment, exactly as it is.

  • You’re not aiming to wipe your mind clear of thoughts. The goal is to pay attention to the moment at hand without judging or attaching stories to what you witness. Look for the details of your surroundings to further ground yourself in the moment - what do you see? Hear? Taste?

Notice your thoughts, distractions, and judgments as they arise - and let them go.

  • Instead of shooing away thoughts that bubble up, notice them. Allow them to come and go without assigning a deeper meaning to them, or becoming wrapped up in them.

Return to observing the present moment, as it is.

  • Remember, mindfulness is about the journey - not the destination. Mindfulness is about changing your relationships with your thoughts and distractions, not stopping them altogether. This is a practice of consciously returning, again and again, to the present moment.

Above all else, treat yourself with compassion! A wandering mind is normal, and to be expected. When you recognize that your mind has wandered off with a passing thought, invite it back to the moment at hand.5

How Do I Meditate?

Meditation is not the only way to be mindful. Mindfulness is a quality of being, while meditation refers to formal practice (often seated with eyes closed). Formal meditation may be a helpful and important way to establish a routine and grow comfortable with the practice.

One type of meditation is referred to as a body scan. Instead of focusing your attention on your breath, the body scan involves systematically focusing on different sensations from head to toe.6

First, get comfortable. You can sit or lie down to explore the following steps:

  1. Begin at the top of your head. Intentionally draw your attention to the surface of your skin, and all the sensations present. Scan the surrounding areas, taking notice of your scalp, ears, eyelids and nose. Continue in this manner, moving across your face, down your neck and, eventually, all the way down to your toes.
  2. At first, it may seem as if you don’t feel anything at all - but as you progress, you might start to notice many new sensations. Some may be pleasant, a gentle warmth, a comfortable weight. Some might feel neutral - tingling or itching. And, some might be unpleasant. Perhaps you’ll feel soreness or ache.
  3. Whatever the sensation is, simply observe it. Of course, if you need to adjust to relieve real pain, follow your body’s cues to do so. But, try not to react by labeling the experience ‘good’ or ‘bad’ - even if it’s unpleasant. Instead, acknowledge what it is you’re feeling, accept the information and continue with your body scan. When you realize your mind has wandered, recognize it, and return your attention back to the body.

With these new tools, you’re ready to start discovering what mindfulness can do for you. Remember, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to practice mindfulness. Approach these exercises with patience and curiosity, and enjoy the changes that will build over time.

References:

  1. Donald, J. N., Atkins, P. W., Parker, P. D., Christie, A. M., & Ryan, R. M. (2016). Daily stress and the benefits of mindfulness: Examining the daily and longitudinal relations between present-moment awareness and stress responses. Journal of Research in Personality, 65, 30-37. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656616301118
  2. Nila, K., Holt, D. V., Ditzen, B., & Aguilar-Raab, C. (2016). Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) enhances distress tolerance and resilience through changes in mindfulness. Mental Health & Prevention, 4(1), 36-41. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212657015300179
  3. Rogers, J. M., Ferrari, M., Mosely, K., Lang, C. P., & Brennan, L. (2017). Mindfulness‐based interventions for adults who are overweight or obese: a meta‐analysis of physical and psychological health outcomes. Obesity reviews, 18(1), 51-67. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/obr.12461
  4. Cherkin, D. C., Sherman, K. J., Balderson, B. H., Cook, A. J., Anderson, M. L., Hawkes, R. J., ... & Turner, J. A. (2016). Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction vs cognitive behavioral therapy or usual care on back pain and functional limitations in adults with chronic low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA, 315(12), 1240-1249. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2504811
  5. Staff Writer. (N.D.) Getting Started With Mindfulness. Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/
  6. Gelles, David. (N.D.) How to Meditate. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/guides/well/how-to-meditate