When you’re mindful, you are aware of your thoughts and feelings as they are happening, without judging them as good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness allows you to live in the moment and be fully aware of your experiences.
Mindfulness is achieved through regular practice. It simply involves sitting still and observing the inner workings of your mind, often while guided by an instructor. It starts out simply by being mindful of your breath, and then advances to helping you become aware of your thoughts and feelings so that you can learn to respond with awareness, rather than react impulsively.
With regular practice mindfulness provides a space between your thoughts, emotions, urges, or impulses and your reactions to them so that you can respond in line with your values. Research has shown that people who practice mindfulness regularly* experience the following benefits:
- Increased attention and decreased hyperactivity and impulsivity
- Increased executive function (working memory, planning, and organization)
- Fewer conduct and anger management problems
- Increased emotional regulation and self-calming
- Increased social skills and social compliance
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Overall less emotional distress
- More positive states of mind
- Better quality of life
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased sense of calmness, relaxation and quality of sleep
- Increased self-acceptance
*Most research is conducted on those who have practiced mindfulness daily (or almost daily) for 6-8 weeks. These benefits will usually not be seen after one practice, or even a regular weekly practice.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Whenever you spend time bringing your mind to the present moment, and then redirecting it back there whenever you notice that it wandering away, you are practicing mindfulness.
To bring your mind to the present moment all you need to do is find an anchor for your attention. This can be anything that you can sense using one of your five senses, or it can be a physical sensation like your breath.
Here are some tips to get you started.
- Select a few minutes each day to sit down and meditate. Close your eyes and bring your full attention to where you feel your breath move through your body.
- Each time that you notice that you’ve become distracted by something else, just direct your attention back to your breath.
- This will happen over and over, so the practice becomes noticing that your mind has wandering, and gently bringing it back.
- Mind wandering is not a mistake or a problem at all, rather it gives you more chances to strengthen your mindfulness “muscle” by directing your attention back to the present.
- Think of meditating like exercise for your mind. Your mind drifting away from the present is like your arm lowering from a bicep curl. Each time you notice it and bring it back to the breath, your arm is curling up and building that muscle. So each random thought becomes another opportunity to become stronger in your practice.
- Select one daily activity to start doing mindfully. Many people enjoy mindfully petting their dog or cat, taking sips of coffee, eating a piece of candy, or even washing their face or brushing their teeth. To bring mindful attention to this activity, simply pay attention to one or more of your five senses, and just like when meditating, every time your mind wanders, gently bring it back to those sensations to come back to the present.
- Mindfulness is most easily learned, and regular practice is most often established, when one participates in a mindfulness course. So if you’re having trouble with mindfulness try to be kind to yourself and don’t give up. It takes time (often 4-6 weeks) to notice the full benefits of mindfulness, so try to stick with it even if you don’t notice any changes right away. Also check out some common mindfulness misconceptions that may be getting in your way.
- If you continue to have trouble, or want to have the best chance of success, a course taught live by a trained mindfulness instructor may be right for you.
We offer 6-8 week mindfulness courses throughout the year for children, teens, adults, and mental health professionals. We also lead classes and do workshops for businesses, schools, sports teams, and other organizations upon request. See the Mindfulness Courses tab for more information about the classes that are enrolling now, or contact Dr. Laura Chackes at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss options for a personalized course, workshop, or presentation for your organization.