Mindfulness for Well-Being: The Practical Benefits of Mindfulness
The ancient concept and practice of mindfulness has gained traction in recent years in mainstream circles. The media is taking note as researchers have shown that mindfulness practices may impact up to eight regions of the brain that control emotion, attention, memory, and more.
In fact, a division of the National Institutes for Health (NIH) maintains an ongoing database of research on the effects of mindfulness and meditation, which includes easing symptoms of insomnia, pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and more.
So, what is mindfulness and how can it benefit you?
At its basic level, mindfulness is a skill that can be honed to help you cope with the everyday stresses of life. When a stressful event occurs, your body and mind react instinctively, but mindfulness offers you a way to step back and reduce the physical and mental impact of a negative response.
Through mindfulness, you remain aware of what is happening around you, but you learn to take knee-jerk responses and judgements out of the equation. It uses the following basic principles, as developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
- Non-judging: You experience events and remain aware, but impartial.
- Patience: You accept that stress happens and you give it time to play out.
- Beginner’s mind: You let go of preconceived notions and see things in the moment.
- Trust: You learn to trust yourself and, in turn, trust others.
- Non-striving: You are not trying to achieve a goal; you just let yourself be.
- Acceptance: You accept the moment, as well as your thoughts and judgements, and don’t try to fight against it.
- Letting go: You learn to let go and observe from moment to moment.
Applying mindfulness to your life
One objection I often hear is that people don’t want to be passive when stressful events occur, but mindfulness is not about being passive. It is about changing your conditioned responses to stress, and reducing the harmful effects of stress. It is, in fact, a surprisingly active internal process that can help you approach difficulties in a new way.
In my practice, many people report feeling consumed or controlled by their emotions. Whether it is anger, fear – or even joy – that overtakes you, emotions can sometimes feel overwhelming. They can also get in the way of fully experiencing and enjoying life. The goal of a mindfulness practice is to eliminate that overwhelmed feeling so you can truly experience your life.
Try this mindfulness exercise, based on the teachings of Thich Nhat Han:
The next time you feel a strong emotion bubbling to the surface (say, while watching the current political news), follow these steps:
- Name the feeling: Are you feeling angry, sad, fearful?
- Greet the feeling: Rather than trying to ignore or suppress it, acknowledge it. Say, “Hello, fear. What do you want to show me today?” (Note: This step can feel uncomfortable for some people, but try to go with it. Addressing the feeling directly can help take away some of its impact.)
- Calm the feeling: Breathe deeply and allow your body to calm itself.
- Release the feeling: Give yourself permission to let go of the feeling, at least for now. (This step can be challenging at first, but it improves with practice.)
- Examine the feeling: Once you are calm, then you can examine whether the feeling was a result of long-held beliefs about yourself or the world around you. Once you can identify those beliefs, it is possible to decide whether they still serve a constructive purpose in your life.
Practice this exercise as often as you can, especially if a certain emotion or challenge is recurring in your life. As much as possible, try to be an impartial observer through the process. Don’t judge yourself or others, but simply let the moment take its course.
Mindfulness is one tool I offer clients who are looking for a greater sense of peace and calm in their lives, and I have seen it make a positive difference.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness or other therapy approaches, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am a Denver, CO therapist located near the Cherry Creek, Washington Park, Bonnie Brae, Virginia Village, Glendale, Lowry, Capitol Hill, and Congress Park neighborhoods.