MINDFULNESS – Part 1
Mindfulness. What comes to mind when you read the word? It’s a concept that’s become very popular over the last few years and practicing mindfulness is showing many benefits for our daily lives. It’s a simple technique to learn, you don’t need any expensive equipment. All you need is your mind!
In this column we’ll look at what we mean by “mindfulness” and take a look at what being mindful can do for us. In the next column we’ll take a look at how we can be more mindful and how to practice it on a daily basis.
So what is mindfulness?
The New Zealand Mental Health Foundation and Mindful Aotearoa define it as “paying attention to what is presently occurring with kindness and curiosity”, or more simply being aware of what’s going on in your mind and your body without judgement, just noticing and being aware.
Great, that sounds fine, but what does that actually mean and why should we be bothered about learning to be mindful?
It’s helpful to think about how life has changed in the last few decades. We live a very different life than people lived 30, 40 or more years ago. Generally the pace of life is faster, we have more technology and gadgets. Without doubt some have improved our lives but some have placed more pressure on us, there are more interruptions during our days (and nights – if you don’t turn your cell phone off!), we sit in front of screens more, we drive more and run around or walk less. We don’t tend to have big gardens now that were great for getting in some physical exercise and allowing us some mental downtime while we got back to nature pottering around in them. Communication is instant and we often feel pressured to respond to others and their requests immediately. There are more choices for us and everything can be go, go, go!
The changes in pace and technology have resulted in us being constantly on the go mentally. As a result we are becoming an increasingly stressed and anxious society. We are tied up with worrying about what’s coming up and often dwell on things past that we can’t do anything about. Many of us don’t deal with painful experiences and emotions in a healthy way. We can get so tied up with all of this that we forget to pay attention to now, to the present and the present is all we actually have any control over.
Learning to be mindful is really about strengthening our ability to pay attention to what’s going on in our environment and our immediate thoughts, feelings and body sensations. It’s about noticing how those things all influence one another. It’s important to understand that all of those elements are interconnected and together they shape our wellbeing. Once we become aware of what is happening to us we can pay attention to it and make adjustments to our thoughts and feelings and ultimately our mood & attitude.
When we are having fun and enjoying ourselves paying attention to those wonderful feelings and being present in the moment can be incredibly rewarding and give us a great base for building and recalling good memories later on. Equally, holding painful feelings or emotions in our awareness without berating ourselves for not being strong, or keeping difficult events in proportion can be really useful for taking the sting out of life’s more upsetting experiences.
The benefits of becoming more mindful are well documented and numerous. Intentionally practicing mindfulness helps us to feel more relaxed and less anxious and depressed. We can lower the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies and increase our concentration and ability to learn. We become calmer and are better at resolving conflict and building healthier relationships. By becoming more mindful we can overcome distractions, allow unhelpful thoughts to pass by and focus on the task in hand. We are also less likely to over think things.
All in all being more mindful helps us to be more balanced, resilient and pay attention to now rather than living in the past or way off in a future that doesn’t exist yet. We can only live one day at a time, we don’t know how many days we’ll get so let’s focus on the one we’re in and make the most of it!