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These days, it seems that everyone is talking about mindfulness—from celebrities to yoga teachers and even college professors. Heck, even your parents and grandparents are getting in on the practice. But beyond the buzzword—and mindfulness and the vast industry it has created certainly is buzzy—you might be wondering: What is mindfulness, exactly?
Mindfulness is defined as a state of being where you are acutely tuned into your body and the world around you. Instead of worrying about the future or dwelling on past actions, you are focused solely on remaining in the present moment. Additionally, rather than judging or diminishing thoughts, feelings, or sensations throughout your body, you accept and acknowledge them in a non-judgmental manner.
If you’re wondering how you can remain mindful in today’s fast-paced world, take a pause. In many ways, mindfulness comes naturally—just think of when you get caught up in a song, engage in a deep conversation with a friend, or play with your kids or pet. Those are all practices in mindfulness. But if you want to delve deeper, and flex your mindfulness muscle so it’s ready when you need it, read on.
Where does mindfulness come from?
Mindfulness originates from “sati,” a word in the ancient Indian language of Pali, which roughly translates to present-moment awareness. In the 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, brought the term into our present-day American English lexicon, launching the first mindfulness-based stress-reduction course at the University of Massachusetts Medical School for people suffering from chronic pain. Kabat-Zinn’s course quickly gained popular. Since it began, more than 25,000 people have taken it. The course ultimately led to the creation of a mindfulness-based school, the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, which continues to offer the eight-week course in person and online.
How does mindfulness work?
When you focus on the present moment and the current sensations in your body, you’re working on training your brain and bodily awareness. By participating in this practice, you’re able to have greater regulation over other mental processes in your head. As a result, you may exhibit lower levels of stress and feel more relaxed.
What are the types of mindfulness?
Mindfulness is commonly integrated into yoga and tai chi practices, as well as meditations. In today’s world, mindfulness can extend into almost every area of your life. There’s mindful walking, mindful driving, and even mindful showers. However, the most popular way to practice mindfulness is through meditations.
These are just a few of the types of mindful mediations you can practice:
- Breathing meditation
- Body scan meditation
- Loving-kindness meditation
- Observing-thought meditation
So, how do you know which mindful meditation practice is right for you? It depends on what you want to focus on. For example, if you want to increase your comfort with and awareness of your physical body, you may elect to try a body scan meditation. If you want to focus on improving relationships with others, you may select a loving-kindness meditation. Regardless of what type of meditation practice you engage with, the focus remains the same—tuning into the present moment without judgment.
What are its uses?
If you’re dealing with chronic pain or stress, a mindfulness practice may alleviate some of your symptoms. Clinical trials found that mindfulness meditations can help combat anxiety, stress, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Additionally, studies found that mindfulness meditations reduced chronic pain by 57 percent.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
The benefits of mindfulness practices are wide-ranging—from the physical to the emotional and psychological—and are applicable to all ages. Kids and teens who practice mindfulness may have improved academic success and be able to more effectively manage their emotions. Other studies found that mindfulness practices can reduce rumination (goodbye overthinking everything!) and improve your working memory.
Here are more established benefits of mindfulness:
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Boost your overall sense of well-being
- Counteracts cognitive decline
- Improves memory
- Boosts your immune system
- Supports heart health
- Decreases pain and discomfort
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves sleep
- Increases focus and attention
- Decreases depressive symptoms
How do you practice mindfulness?
Meditation apps are a great way to get started on your mindfulness journey at home or on the go. You can also choose to attend a mindfulness meditation class in person, such as the ones offered through the Mindfulness Meditation New York Collaborative or sign up for classes online.
Of course, you don’t need a guide, an app, or anything special to practice mindfulness. With these five steps, you can practice right now:
- Find a comfortable seat, go for a walk, or lie down.
- Tune into your surroundings by tapping into your senses. What can you hear, smell, feel, see, and taste?
- Focus on your breath and the sensations in your body.
- Recognize any thoughts that come into your mind. Without judgment, let them go, and refocus on your experience in the present moment.
- Stay for as long as you’re comfortable or able.
If you do want to try a guided practice, we’ve compiled three meditations you can try for free:
10-minute daily mindfulness meditation
This quick meditation from Calm provides the perfect way to reorient and reenergize in just 10 minutes. Whether you’re facing a challenging day at work or increased stress at home, this meditation is a great entry point to your mindfulness practice.
10-minute sleep meditation
If you’re feeling restless (or battling chronic insomnia), try this sleep meditation. By paying attention to the sensations in your body and clearing your mind of external stresses, you’ll be able to drift off to sleep in no time.
10-minute meditation for anxiety
If you’re feeling particular stressed or anxious today, try this 10-minute meditation for anxiety. By focusing on the present moment, you can decrease your stress levels and bring your body into a more relaxed state.
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