Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present where you are and on what you’re doing to reduce overwhelming feelings. Everyone has the ability to engage in mindfulness, which can offer benefits such as reducing stress, enhancing performance, increasing our attention and insight on those around us, and more.
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What is Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment in the present moment. Mindfulness requires acceptance of our thoughts and feelings without believing there is a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel. When engaging in mindfulness, you focus on the present moment rather than focusing on the past or what the future may hold.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation but entered the American mainstream in recent works as part of a program that was launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn transformed meditation to a common practice of health promotion grounded in science. Now, professional athletes are using meditation to improve their performance, as well as CEOs and Silicon Valley programmers, although mindfulness can be practiced by anyone.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness can be relatively simple to incorporate into everyday life. The first step in engaging in mindfulness is to understand how to practice it. To get started, consider practicing mindfulness during your daily routine in the following ways:
- Seated, walking, standing, and/or moving meditation
- Short pauses inserted into everyday life
- Merging meditation with other activities such as yoga or sports
There are plenty of other ways to practice mindfulness. NeuroTransformational Coach, Rachel Tenenbaum, suggests the P.E.A.C.E. technique when trying to practice mindfulness. P.E.A.C.E. stands for Pause, Embrace, Acknowledge, Choose, and Engage. More specifically:
Think of your brain as a prediction machine. A simple pause gives you (and your brain) space to look at the situation anew. You step out of your emotional, reactive response and into flexible open-mindedness that will lead you more closely to your chosen and created life goals. “Pausing,” says Tenenbaum, “is the first essential step toward conscious leadership, conscious living, connection, and communication.”
Embrace how you feel and what you cannot change. Have self-awareness for where you are. Embrace and accept what you cannot change about the circumstances. Tenenbaum highlights a quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If there are circumstances that you cannot change, then it’s no use beating your head against a brick wall; that just gives you a headache.”
Acknowledge what it is you want. Be straightfoward about your circumstances. Again, consider your greater goals. Tenenbaum recommends asking these two questions:
1) What do you want?
2) What habits or actions of yours will get in the way?
With the former question, Tenenbaum teaches leaders (high-performing individuals such as CEOs, elite athletes, and academics) to ask questions like, “What do I want from this situation? What is the greatest ideal outcome? Is this relationship one that will move me toward or away from my commitments? What do I want the big picture for this scenario to look like?”
The second step is simply telling the truth. To do so, Tenenbaum trains leaders to reflect on, and name habits, thoughts, and actions that could get in the way of what they actually want. Then list them against “non-negotiables.” This is the ultimate in super-charging: saying no to what doesn’t matter and yes to what does matter.
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Choose a new action (or nonaction) given what you’ve acknowledged you cannot change given your greater goals. Asking yourself questions is a great way to choose a new empowered response. Consider the following questions:
- Am I seeking justification or retribution?
- Am I being driven by cortisol? (The drug associated with stress and anxiety, which can heighten our need to mobilize and take action)
- Given what I have acknowledged I cannot change, and given the greatest possible outcome, what different action or non-action can I take to further that agenda?
- What choice will best maintain my inner peace, now and in the days to come? Am I choosing from a greater desire? Are my actions aligned with my desire to maintain inner peace?
“Engage wholeheartedly with every element of you,” suggests Tenenbaum. One way to engage fully is to focus on how you may feel after your engagement. If you want to protect your inner peace, respond in a way that respects you. Engage while keeping your cool. Do not allow your emotions to take over your brain and your body. You can continue old habits, but at the end of the day, this won't get you the results you want. People who react to stress without being responsible are simply choosing a knee-jerk reaction. They are choosing a dopamine hit because it’s learned, it’s easy, and it's addictive,” says Tenenbaum.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a form of meditation, which has a number of benefits. Meditation can help improve negative thoughts and emotions by improving attention, decreasing job burnout, improving sleep, and even improving diabetes control. Nita Sweeney, certified meditation leader, and author highlights the many benefits of mindfulness:
- Boosts the Immune System
- Improves Sleep Quality & Helps Treat Insomnia
- Lowers Blood Pressure Levels
- Helps Treat Chronic Pain
- Increases Energy Levels
- Helps Alleviate Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
- Slows the Body’s Aging Process
- Helps Treat Migraine Headaches
- Improves Overall Heart Health
- Improves Management of Diabetes
- Decreases Levels of Stress
- Improves Emotional Intelligence (EI) Skills
- Helps Combat Anxiety
- Helps Treat Depression
- Relieves Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Helps Treat Addiction & Reduces Relapse Rates
- Improves Relationships
- Decreases Emotional Reactivity & Increases Resiliency
- Improves Self-Esteem & Subjective Well-Being
- Decreases Binge Eating & Emotional Eating
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- Improves Memory
- Improves Executive Function Processes
- Reduces Risk of Dementia
- Improves Creative Thinking Skills
- Rebuilds Brain Gray Matter
- Helps Manage Symptoms of ADHD
- Increases Focus & Productivity
- Reduces Cognitive Rigidity
- Reduces Rumination
- Promotes Positive Changes in Brainwave Frequencies
Other health and wellness professionals echo these benefits of mindfulness. Dr. Carrie Lam, MD, FAAMFM, ABAARM, says, “the frequent use of mindfulness is one of the most effective ways for stress reduction, managing chronic pain, alleviating depression and anxiety, easing a chemical imbalance due to chronic stress, coping with life, overcoming addictions, and to top it off, it is a great avenue for spiritual development, self-actualization, and creativity.”
“Mindfulness helps boost and balance our feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins and at the same time reduces excessive norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter responsible for chronic stress,” says Dr. Lam.
Mindfulness is not just sitting and meditating. Dr. Lam suggests that mindfulness and mindfulness-based techniques are found in exercises such as Yoga and Tai Chi, which help the nervous system rejuvenate and may aid in recovery from a chemical imbalance.
The Adrenal Breathing Exercise is an excellent clinically proven tool that brings mindfulness to calm the overactive autonomic nervous system when under stress. Proper breathing not only heals chemical imbalances but also prevents over-excitation of the sympathetic nervous system that leads to excess release of norepinephrine and adrenaline.
Mindfulness Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When understanding the “how” and “why” of practicing mindfulness, consider the following questions:
Is there a difference between meditation and mindfulness?
Meditation is the practice itself while mindfulness is the quality of the practice. Essentially, meditation is one of the roads to achieve mindful living and the ability to think in the present and mindfulness is only one aspect of meditation.
How often should I practice mindfulness exercises?
Depending on the type of exercise you engage in, some exercises can be practiced anytime and anywhere. According to the Mayo Clinic, research indicates that engaging your senses in the outdoors can be especially beneficial.
If you are looking for sitting meditation, it may be more effective for you to practice when you have a quiet place with few distractions or interruptions. The Mayo Clinic suggests practicing mindfulness every day for about six months, as mindfulness may become effortless over time.
Mindfulness can be pivotal practice to improve your physical, cognitive, and psychological functions. Mindfulness can be practiced just about anywhere, but minimizing distractions and noise can make your experience the most optimal. Try incorporating such practices into your everyday routine!
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Ashley Brooks works in Healthcare Consulting and graduates with her MPH in September of 2022 from George Washington University, but graduated with her B.S. in Health Science from James Madison University in 2019. Ashley has been with Mira since June of 2021 and shares the passion for creating affordable healthcare coverage for all!