What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
With the rise of digital media and instant messaging, we have come to a point whereby many of us never really “switch off” from work. We have spent so much time thinking over stuff that has happened or worrying over things that might happen in the future, that often we actually forget to appreciate or enjoy the present moment.
Mindfulness is a scientifically proven practice that helps us cope with everyday challenges and difficult times. The practice of mindfulness has also proven to be highly beneficial for our physical and mental wellbeing. The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes.
Common Misconceptions About Mindfulness
- Mindfulness is not a religion. While various religions do practice meditation, it is really just a practice. With mindfulness meditation, there is no philosophy or doctrine to accept. In fact, one of the goals of mindfulness meditation is to free ourselves from views, and to see the world as it truly is.
- Mindfulness is not an escape from reality. Mindfulness meditation enables us to see reality without our views being influenced by our emotions or preconceived ideas. In fact, the definition of mindfulness is awareness of reality. Meditation calms our emotions, and the excess chatter in our mind, so we can see the world more objectively.
- ‘Living in the moment’ doesn’t mean living without any regard to the future and consequences. It simply means paying attention to our experience in this moment. The past has already happened and can’t be changed, the future will be determined by what we do now, therefore the present moment is the only moment where there is an opportunity to do something different.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
Some of the most popular ideas about mindfulness are just plain wrong. When you begin to practice it, you may find the experience quite different than what you have expected. There’s a good chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Many studies have pointed to the benefits of practising mindfulness in improving our psychological functioning. In a review of empirical studies by Keng et al (2011), mindfulness has shown benefits in:
- Reducing self-reported levels of anxiety, depression, anger, perceived stress
- Improving positive affect, self-compassion, empathy, satisfaction with life and quality of life
Apart from our psychological health, mindfulness improves our physical health as well.
Mindfulness helps in:
- Better quality of sleep
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Reducing chronic pain
For some, the ability to focus attention and stay undistracted can be challenging. Research has shown that practising mindfulness helps in our cognitive functioning, with improvements in working memory capacity and attentional functioning.
How do I practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness is available to us in every moment, whether through meditations and body scans, or mindful moment practices like taking time to pause and breathe when the phone rings instead of rushing to answer it.
Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:
- Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space.
- Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. Easier said than done, we know.
- Let your judgments roll by. When we notice judgments arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
- Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
- Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. You may join our 1 Day Workplace Mindfulness and Wellbeing Workshop facilitated by Certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher, Ms Erin Lee on how to incorporate mindfulness practice into your day-to-day life at work and at home. As you spend time practicing mindfulness, you’ll probably find yourself feeling kinder, calmer, and more patient. These shifts in your experience are likely to generate changes in other parts of your life as well.