My yoga teacher regularly mentions the concept of “mindfulness.” Are there ways in which I can become more mindful, and are there health benefits associated with doing so?

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My yoga teacher regularly mentions the concept of “mindfulness.” Are there ways in which I can become more mindful, and are there health benefits associated with doing so?

April 6, 2011, 03:09PM

MindfulnessDo you ever feel disconnected from your life and the people around you? Do you arrive at the end of each week wondering where it went? Practicing mindfulness as you move through your day helps you fully experience it and savor life — in the moment. Mindfulness doesn’t give you more time, or slow it down — but it makes the time you have more meaningful and memorable.

What is Mindfulness?

In Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and Harvard health expert Lilian Cheung, D.Sc., R.D., define being mindful as “to be completely aware of what is happening in the present, to be fully aware of all that is going on within ourselves and all that is happening around us, from moment to moment, without judgement or preconceived notions.”

Mindfulness has its roots in ancient Buddhist teachings — but you don’t have to be a Buddhist or religious at all to practice it. It’s easy to learn and can be done anywhere, by anyone.

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

Practicing mindfulness is gaining popularity as a pathway to personal peace, well-being, and better quality of life. Health researchers point to significant health benefits found in people who practice mindfulness regularly, including:

  • Reduction of stress symptoms and enhanced ability to manage short-term and long-term stress
  • Improved ability to cope with chronic pain
  • Decreased medical and psychological symptoms
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Better brain function
  • Increased immunity

Becoming Mindful

You can train yourself to become more mindful in many ways. Two of the most widely researched ways are listed here:

  1. Mindful breathing and meditation — Sit quietly in a comfortable position and focus on your breathing. Imagine oxygen reaching every part of your body as you inhale, and carbon dioxide and other waste leaving your body every time you exhale. Keep your attention on your breathing. Just observe it without trying to control it. Be aware of it. If stray thoughts entire your mind, notice them, and let them float out. It will feel strange at first, because we’re so accustomed to rushing from one thing to the next. When your mind wanders, simply bring it back to focus on your breathing. Don’t try to block or thoughts or judge yourself. Just be aware of thoughts as they pass through. Instead of doing, focus on simply being. Try this for 5 minutes, and go longer as you become more skilled.
  2. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) —Many people who are coping with chronic pain, stress, or illness, have found significant relief with MBSR, a program developed by Jon Zabat-Kinn, Ph.D., in 1979. The University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness now trains people in MBSR as way to promote conscious living and enhanced health and well-being. The program includes guided instruction in mindfulness meditation, yoga, and gentle stretching; group interaction designed to increase overall awareness; and materials and assignments to assist in the development of mindfulness skills. Center for Mindfulness-trained MBSR instructors can be found around the world.

Mindful Living Every Day

Meditation and MBSR are great ways to build your mindfulness skills for everyday life. Becoming more mindful in ordinary situations promotes good health and quality of life.

Eating mindfully is a way of becoming aware of your experience of taking in each bite — paying attention to the texture, flavor, and temperature of each bite, for example, instead of watching TV as you eat or wolfing down a taco in your car. It helps you tune in to your physical sensations of hunger and fullness. Chances are, you’ll eat less when you eat mindfully — yet walk away from the meal more satisfied.

Mindful physical activity means being fully aware of what you are doing when you are doing it, whether you’re swimming, walking, lifting weights, or playing golf. Notice how your foot feels as it strikes the ground; pay attention to the sensation of fatigue in your shoulder as you lift a dumbbell. Because of your strong sense of focus, engaging in mindful exercise may enhance the effectiveness of your fitness workouts or sports performance.

The skills you gain from practicing mindfulness will also enhance your relationships. Having a mindful conversation with your spouse, partner, or children means that you focus completely on what they are saying — not on what you want to say next. No matter how you spend your time, when you’re mindful, you’re fully present instead of thinking about tomorrow’s work project or ruminating over yesterday’s stressful moments. And that’s a priceless gift to give yourself and the people you care about.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions —The Mindfulness Project

Mindfulness and Health in Children — Duke Health

Mindful Meditations — UCLA Semel Institute Mindful Awareness Research Center

What is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction? —Mindful Living Programs 

References

  1. Hanh TN, Cheung L, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, HarperCollins, 2010
  2. Kabat-Zinn J, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Dell Publishing, 1990
  3. McGarvey M, The Mindfulness Project, http://www.themindfulnessproject.org/faq.htm
  4. Praissman S, Mindfulness-based stress reduction: A literature review and clinician’s guide, Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners 20 (2008) 212-216
  5. University of Massachusetts Medical School, Center for Mindfulness, Research , Major Research Findings, http://www.umassmed.edu/Content.aspx?id=42426

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