Mindfulness is a key component of many meditative and contemplative practices and it can also be an illuminating approach to everyday life. To be mindful is to focus our awareness and attention on the experience of the present moment. We can be mindful of our thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions; the natural world and our immediate environment; the people around us; and other parts of our lives.
A huge body of research now shows that mindfulness can have an incredibly positive impact on our lives. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It improves our focus, resilience, and memory, and it has a whole host of health benefits including increased immune function and powerful anti-aging properties.
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Mindfulness practices encourage us to slow down and notice what we can be directly aware of at any given moment. A recommended way to begin is to sit in a quiet place and notice the movement of our breathing. By bringing mindfulness to this one simple and flowing experience, we may be able to temporarily let go of our habitual thinking, daily narratives, and worries.
Along with formal meditation practices, we can be mindful in our everyday lives. Eating a meal, walking, driving, and other seemingly mundane tasks are all opportunities for mindfulness. The more we ground ourselves in the present, the more fully we can experience being alive.
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Why is mindfulness so effective? In a world that’s hectic and fast-paced, it’s beneficial to stop and re-center by noticing what’s around you.
I often find myself stuck in one of two places. I am either ruminating on a past—perhaps revising what I had seen and done and trails hiked on past snowbird travels before COVID. Or I am desperately concerned about and planning the future—what if I’m no longer able to drive my motorhome or what if someone I love gets really sick?
It’s easy to spend the majority of a day doing what’s been described as “rehashing the past” or “rehearsing the future.”
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The biggest problem with rehashing or rehearsing is that those thoughts are often a source of stress and anxiety. This is where mindfulness can become a powerful antidote. Spending time each day meditating and grounding ourselves in the present has been tied to less stress, fewer unwanted thoughts, heightening creativity, encouraging appreciation, and combating overall mental and emotional fatigue.
Mindfulness practices have also been found to reduce stress, boost immune systems, and improve brain functions.
How could simply tuning into your thoughts and feelings lead to so many positive outcomes throughout the body? Researchers believe the benefits of mindfulness are related to its ability to dial down the body’s response to stress.
Chronic stress can impair the body’s immune system and make many other health problems worse. By lowering the stress response, mindfulness may have downstream effects throughout the body.
Because mindfulness is so helpful at easing negative and stressful feelings, it can contribute towards us living healthier, happier lives. It may even slow down the aging process because while stress has the side-effect of speeding up our biological clock, mindfulness can help to slow it down.
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In a study from Stanford University, a 90-minute walk in a natural area was shown to lower the risk of depression and one survey found that 65 percent of people who put away digital devices while on vacation enjoyed their way more (not surprising, right?). But where can you go to truly unplug? Turns out, that’s the easy part. I’ve got some ideas to get you started. Stay tuned for a follow-up article.
In the quotes below, practitioners discuss the essence of mindfulness and its myriad benefits.
The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.
—Henry Miller, writer
Mindfulness is nonconceptual awareness… It [is] the direct and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought.
—Henepola Gunaratana, Buddhist monk
Mindfulness, though so highly praised and capable of such great achievements, is not at all a ‘mystical’ state, beyond the ken and reach of the average person. It is, on the contrary, something quite simple and common, and very familiar to us.
—Nyanaponika Thera, Buddhist monk and author
Our mind should be soft and open enough to understand things as they are… It is called mindfulness.
—Shunryu Suzuki, Zen monk and teacher