The recommendation to be mindful pops up everywhere and in many different contexts, too. But rarely does someone take the time and answer the most basic question: What is mindfulness? And how do you “do” mindfulness in daily life?
With this post, I’ll give some insight into mindfulness. Basically a “mindfulness for beginners” kind of thing. After reading this, you’ll know what mindfulness is, what the benefits of it are, and how you can practice it.
What exactly is mindfulness?
First of all, we want to understand what exactly mindfulness is. Merriam Webster defines it as
- the quality or state of being mindful
- the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis
Well. They are not wrong. But honestly, this is not really easy to understand, is it? Let’s try that again.
What is being mindful?
Being mindful means to be fully aware of everything that’s going on around you. To notice any physical sensations. Any sounds. Anything you can notice. Even being aware of what you might be thinking.
Being mindful is to basically watch everything that is happening right now, without doing anything about it.
Usually, we mostly notice things that we want to change or do something about. Like any discomfort or any thoughts and feelings that might be bothering us. Like anxiety or anger.
But when was the last time you noticed how the fabric you are wearing feels on your skin? Is it soft? Scratchy? Cool? Warming?
What is mindfulness training?
On first glance, this sounds pretty straightforward. Noticing what’s going on, pretty easy, right? But once you try to be mindful for a few minutes at a time, you might notice that it’s not actually that easy. Instead of being fully present and aware, we tend to get lost in thoughts instead. “Oh, I still need to do this thing. And what am I actually going to have for dinner? Oh, I just remembered what the delivery guy said about my order. That was really not nice.”…
Does that sound familiar? It’s how humans are wired. So to practice being more mindful and less caught up in your thoughts, you can do a kind of “mindfulness training”. And we’ll get to the various ways of how you can practice mindfulness in a bit.
But first, let’s find out why we actually want to do that and what the benefits of mindfulness are.
Related: How to meditate for beginners
Why do we practice mindfulness?
If you are new to the concept, you might wonder what the purpose of this whole “being mindful” is. Why is paying attention to your surroundings such a big hype all of a sudden? What does being mindful do for you?
How can mindfulness help you?
First of all, mindfulness can help you in numerous ways. By becoming more aware of things, you automatically improve quite a few life skills.
- You’ll become more self-aware, which is a skill fundamental to many things, like time management.
- Pleasures feel more pleasurable if you are fully present to enjoy them.
- And worries are much less powerful because instead of living in the future or past, you focus on the present.
- Training mindfulness increases your ability to focus.
What are the benefits of being mindful?
But don’t think for a second that mindfulness is simply a way to work on your life skills. Being mindful actually has numerous health benefits as well, both physically and mentally. And because there are so many, I made you a (non-exhaustive) list of mindfulness benefits.
List of mindfulness benefits
- Mindfulness can improve your immune system
- can decrease the risk of heart disease
- helps fight insomnia and
- improves your sleep
- is about as effective as antidepressants in fighting depression
- eases anxiety and
- decreases mental stress
- can help you deal with pain better
- might help you lose weight
- improves connections in your brain
- can lower blood pressure
- also helps lowering cholesterol levels
- benefits people who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders
Hopefully, after reading through this list, you are no longer wondering why you should be mindful. It really is a chemical-free, free-of-charge wonder medication for so many of our lifestyle diseases and mental health issues.
How to practice mindfulness
So, now that you are hopefully convinced to try mindfulness yourself, it’s time to answer the next question: How do you do mindfulness?
As with many things in life, you can achieve mindfulness through practice. A lot of practice. Yes, it does get easier, but prepare yourself for a life-long practice. Like I said above, our brains are wired to constantly chatter and think. With practice, you can balance this out, but the tendency will always be there. And that’s okay.
That being said, let’s look at another list. (Yes, I love lists. They are so tidy!)
This time it’s about various mindfulness activities you can do to practice mindfulness.
List of mindfulness exercises
1. Mindfulness meditation
The queen of mindfulness exercises. Sit down and focus on your breath. Notice when you start to think about random stuff again and go back to your breath. Then start becoming aware of other things you can notice. Feelings, sounds, even smell. Simply notice these things and observe, without judging it.
2. Body Scan
As the name suggests, you scan through your whole body. Noticing each and every body part, limb and organ. Become aware of how everything feels, what it touches, et cetera.
3. Noticing feelings
This exercise works more on the emotional level. Think of something that stresses you out or makes you otherwise unhappy. Then “drop into the body”. This means, to notice any physical sensations in response to your thoughts. Tightness in the chest? Tingling in the arms? Simply notice it.
4. Mindfulness eating
Use your senses to be aware of your food even before you put it in your mouth. What does it smell, feel and look like? When you start eating, keep being aware of everything you can notice about the food. Where does it touch your tongue, teeth, and mouth? What does that feel like?
5. Five senses exercise
In this mindfulness exercise, you work all of your five senses. Specifically, your task is to consciously notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This exercise is great to do in moments of anxiety, as it forces your brain away from the panic and into the body.
6. Three-minute breathing space
In the first minute, simply notice what’s going on and how you’re feeling. During the second minute, focus on your breath. And finally, in the third minute, focus on your whole body and what you are feeling.
7. Focus object
Find a small object you can hold in your hand and give it your full attention for five minutes. What does it feel like in your hand? How heavy is it? Is it cool, warm, rough, sleek? Notice the color and any patterns.
Try any of these exercises right now, there is no better time for it. (No excuses or I’ll force you to read my post on procrastination!) And then let me know what you think. I love reading your feedback in the comments!