what is mindfulness

What Is Mindfulness, and How to Practice It?

Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally focusing your attention on the present moment. You perceive the present without any judgment and seize dwelling on the past or projecting into the future.

This practice generally involves an elevated awareness of your sensory stimuli. You become more aware of your breathing and body sensations. It’s all about living “in the now.”

Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness isn’t attached to any religious belief. Although the practice has its origins in Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy, anyone can take advantage of the benefits of mindfulness.

Mindfulness can benefit anyone who is:

  • Struggling with anxiety or depression
  • Stressed
  • Continually focusing on negative emotions
  • Struggling to build strong bonds with others
  • Feeling distracted or occasionally has a hard time concentrating
  • Struggling to control their eating habits

Different Types of Mindfulness

There are various forms of mindfulness meditation and mindfulness-based interventions.

These include:

  • Observing-thought meditation
  • Body scan meditation
  • Breathing meditation
  • Loving-kindness meditation

Therapists also incorporate various mindfulness practices to treat different mental health issues.

Some of the interventions that include mindfulness practices include:

  • Mindfulness-based pain management (MBPM)
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
  • Mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT)
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

How Does Mindfulness Work?

Thought patterns can affect our feelings and actions. For instance, if you think of upsetting past or future events, it may cause feelings of anxiety and sadness. Mindfulness incorporates different techniques aimed at drawing your focus to the present moment.

As you focus on your breathing and body, you:

  • Are more aware of what your body is saying: For example, you can feel anxiety or tension in the form of a raised heartbeat, shallow breathing, or tense muscles.
  • Can create space between you and your thoughts: This allows you to control how you react to different things.
  • Notice the way your thoughts change: In the process, you learn that they don’t have to define you or your experience in the world and that you can let them go.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is best achieved through meditation. However, it’s possible to practice mindfulness through daily living. You can do this by focusing on the present and quieting your inner dialogue. Here are some examples of mindfulness exercises you can try.

Paying More Attention

If you want to be more present, start paying attention to what’s happening around you. Be keen on your feelings, senses, and thoughts. Also, slow down and try to enjoy what you’re experiencing.

Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation combines meditation with a practice of mindfulness. It enables you to intentionally draw your focus to the present moment so you can go off negativity, challenge racing thoughts, and calm both your body and mind.

The goal is to get comfortable with your thoughts and feelings without suppressing them. If you practice regularly, it will have a lasting positive impact on your physical and mental health.

If you are too busy to dedicate special time to practice structured mindfulness exercises such as body scan meditation or sitting meditation, it’s possible to include mindfulness practices in your everyday activities.

For example, you can focus on your thoughts and breathing while exercising or try to live in the moment and observe the sensations of the world around you as you go for a walk.

Focus On the Present

Stop thinking about the past or overwhelming yourself with fears of future occurrences. You cannot change the past, and you have little influence on the future, especially in matters out of your control.

Focusing on the present moment is an excellent mindfulness practice. It allows you to focus on what you can control and relieves anxiety and stress that stems from fears of the unknown.

Accept Yourself

Self-acceptance is also an excellent way of practicing mindfulness. Stop all the negative thoughts that you have about yourself. Instead, focus on your strengths and things you love about yourself. Treat yourself as you would a good friend.

Mindful Breathing

When you start having negative thoughts, sit down and try to take controlled breaths. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and pay attention to how your body moves as you do so. Doing this for a few minutes will help ease your mind.

Can Mindfulness Treat Mental Health Problems?

Yes. Mindfulness is an invaluable practice in clinical psychology. Therapists combine mindfulness with cognitive therapy and other therapy treatments to treat various mental health issues.

MBCT and MBSR have been particularly effective in treating the following:

Depression

Studies show that individuals who experience depressive symptoms following depression episodes benefit a lot from mindfulness practice. Mindfulness prevents rumination over upsetting events. As a result, this practice keeps individuals from focusing on negative emotions.

Anxiety Disorders

People with anxiety disorders have also shown a significant reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms after mindful-based interventions. Mindfulness is also considered an effective strategy to reduce anxiety in the long term.

This practice allows you to gain perspective of your thoughts and take control. As a result, you’re able to take yourself from a state of anxiety to a calmer, more present state.

Stress Management

Mindfulness is also effective in helping with daily stressors and more serious stress experienced by individuals with chronic pain or life-threatening diseases. For instance, research shows that MBSR is effective in reducing stress in people with breast cancer.

Relationship Issues

Research suggests that people who have a greater sense of mindfulness enjoy better and healthier relationships. They deal with relationship stress more constructively and tend to have better control of their emotions.

What’s more, individuals who practice mindfulness are reported to have a lower stress response during the conflict.

Eating Disorders

Studies also show that mindfulness practices are effective in controlling eating disorders such as binge eating and emotional eating. Through mindfulness, one is able to concentrate on their thoughts and understand what’s making them want to indulge in unhealthy eating patterns.

As a result, the individual is better-positioned to challenge their thoughts and make different choices. It’s a strategy that gets better with practice.

Tips to Practice Mindfulness in Daily Life

Learning to incorporate mindfulness practice into your everyday life may be not easy at first. When you begin, it may be extremely challenging to control your thoughts and focus on the present. However, practice makes perfect.

Some of the things you can do to get better include:

Use an App

There are numerous apps that offer guided practices, resources, and information that can be useful when you’re starting. Explore the different types available and narrow them down to the one that offers what you’re looking for. For beginners, your goal should be to look for an app that offers simple guidelines. This way, you’ll have an easy time following the steps.

Focus On One Thing

Multitasking can make it challenging to practice mindfulness because you’re focusing on multiple things at once. Try focusing on one task only.

For instance, if you find it easier to practice mindfulness during your commute, switch off the radio and focus solely on your thoughts. Without distractions, it’s easy to focus and achieve mental relaxation.

Take a Walk

Spending time outdoors is also a good idea. You get to connect with nature, limit distractions, and gain more awareness of your thoughts because you’re focusing on one thing. Furthermore, it encourages you to be more present as you enjoy the sights, sensations, and sounds around you.

Journaling

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you cannot silence your inner voice and focus on the present. If your mind tends to wander off when you’re trying mindful meditation, consider journaling.

This is an excellent practice because it allows you to put your thoughts on paper. It’s a perfect approach for beginners because it allows you to focus on your thoughts and present moment without too much hassle.

Prioritize Self-Care

Don’t be frustrated or hard on yourself when you can’t seem to concentrate and limit distractions. Mindfulness is also about accepting your short-comings and treating yourself with compassion.

Express the same understanding you would to a close friend to yourself. Also, take some time to do things you love and take care of your body.

Wrapping Up

Incorporating mindfulness meditation practice into your daily life can seem intimidating at first. You may find it challenging to do the breathing exercises or take control of your thoughts. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Mindfulness takes practice, but even a few minutes a day can be beneficial.

But you should remember that mindfulness is quite a general well-being tool. If you want to address a specific mental health issue, for example, anxiety or depression, it may be best to seek professional help and get more focused treatment.

Calmerry offers you an opportunity to get matched with a fully licensed therapist and get the necessary support and guidance.

Kate Skurat

Kate Skurat

Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Washington, United States

Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach. Read more