Mindfulness: Why and how

Black woman practicing mindfullness

During times of uncertainty and heightened anxiety, a mindfulness or meditation practice can help to provide comfort and calmness, and offers anyone a calm, quiet moment to give themself a little daily nurturing. Even when life is sailing along on smooth waters, a regular mindfulness practice helps you achieve your health and wellness goals while nurturing your good habits.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully and completely engaged in the present moment. You aren’t thinking about the past -- actions, mistakes, what you’d do differently, or the future -- fretting about your to-do list, uncertainties, what you hope to achieve. You are only focused on the present moment.

Mindfulness looks different to different people. Some choose more still forms of mindfulness such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi, while others find mindfulness in more active pursuits such as running or swimming. In fact, you can achieve mindfulness during any situation or activity in your life, as long as you are staying attuned to the current moment without worrying about the past or future.

Why Practice Mindfulness?

Practicing mindfulness helps us to stay not overly reactive or overwhelmed, so that we can maintain our emotional balance. And it’s not all hocus pocus -- there is plenty of scientific research that shows the many benefits of mindfulness, including: stress relief, lowering blood pressure, reducing chronic pain, improving sleep, and alleviating gastrointestinal difficulties. The most profound effect of a regular mindfulness practice, however, is that it vastly improves mental health for those with depression and anxiety.

 A small 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital study found that those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) had a significantly greater reduction in anxiety after completing an 8-week group intervention with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) versus a control group that received stress management education (SME). Another study, published in 2015, found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which combines elements from MBSR and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helped to prevent depression recurrence as effectively as maintenance antidepressant medication.

Mindfulness has also been shown to increase body satisfaction, reduce implicit age and rage bias, improve cognition, increase immune system function, and help the brain to reduce distractions. Basically, being mindful makes you a better person!

How to Cultivate a Mindfulness Practice

Cultivating your own mindfulness practice at home has never been easier. There are plenty of studios across the country that offer various forms of mindfulness programs. These programs often come at a cost, something to be mindful of if you’re watching your wallet.

If you prefer to practice mindfulness from the comfort of home, a quick YouTube search turns up results tailored for kids, sleep, music, and various guided meditations. There are also mindfulness videos for time-crunched individuals, and those who want to learn more about the science behind mindfulness.

Mobile apps make it easy to take your mindfulness practice with you, with various free and subscription-based options available. Calm, Headspace, and Stop, Breathe & Think are some of the most popular options available for both iOS and Android users.

Mindfulness sessions don’t have to take long either -- research shows that even just 10 minutes daily is all it takes to provide noticeable benefits, and many people experience benefits after their very first session.

A Simple Sample Meditation

Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Close your eyes, and inhale deeply through the nose and out through the mouth three or four times. Then, let your breathing return to normal. As you breathe in and out, focus on your breath while repeating a short, simple word or phrase silently to yourself. This mantra could be “peace,” “love,” “ohm,” or anything else you find comforting or relaxing. Repeat the word at a pace that is comfortable for you, continuing to breathe. Do this for 10 minutes, starting with shorter sessions if necessary. When you’re finished, sit quietly for a few moments before bringing your attention back to your surroundings and gently opening your eyes.

Mindfulness gives us an opportunity to C.A.R.E. for ourselves and others by allowing us to spark a connection with the world around us, appreciate everyday wellness and acts of kindness, show deep respect for one another, and help each other thrive and live our best lives.

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