In recent months, finding myself more stressed and more anxious than usual, I’ve embarked on a quest in maintaining good mental health. On this journey, I’ve come across something called mindfulness. As Jon Kabal-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are, puts it, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” ~ Jon Kabal-Zinn
Instead of reflecting on the past or worrying about the future, mindfulness is about focusing on the present and paying attention to what you are doing while you are doing it. It involves purposefully noticing and being aware of the present moment. Rather than being lost with your thoughts, you direct your energies towards the sensations you presently feel, such as the feel of clothes against your skin or the taste of the food you are eating. Finally, you try to be non-judgmental about what you are feeling, so instead of trying to change or control what and how you feel, you accept what you are feeling and experience it as it happened.
How To Be Mindful
While mindfulness is a form of meditation, it does not require you to sit cross-legged while humming “Ommm.” Rather, you sit in an upright position while focusing on your breathing. It’s important to note that you breathe just as you would normally in your daily life (so you don’t need to breathe more deeply, for instance). Simply focus on your normal breathing patterns, making sure to keep note of your in-breaths and your out-breaths.
If you get distracted, acknowledge what you were thinking about and gently bring your focus back to your breathing. There is no need to be upset with yourself if your mind wanders, as distractions are inevitable, especially in the beginning. This brings us back to one of the tenets of mindfulness – being non-judgmental. Do not judge yourself even when your mind wanders.
Simply continue this breathing exercise for as long as you want. If sitting still seems a bit formal, you can also practice informal mindfulness which is mindfulness you practice in your day to day. The process is similar, in that, you focus your attention on your body and the present. For example, as you are walking, focus on walking and noticing the landscape around you, or while you are eating, focus on the taste and smell of your food rather than thinking about other things.
Personally, as I find myself becoming increasingly stressed or anxious, I take a moment to focus on my breathing and experience the present moment. Instead of trying to change my anxiety, I take a moment to experience my emotions in the present moment so that I can work towards letting go. Instead of worrying about where I need to be or what I need to do, I take a moment to appreciate where I am.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness can help you build concentration and reduce stress levels. It allows you to recognize ruminative thoughts and learn to process your emotions in a healthy way, increasing your emotional state of well-being. Research shows that mindfulness enhances your social relations by increasing empathy and reducing social anxiety. One study even shows how mindfulness can help prevent a depression relapse. Further research continues to be done to understand how mindfulness can ease the symptoms of mental illness.