In today’s high paced society, it’s easy to go through life on automatic, with little to no conscious awareness of what we are experiencing in the present moment. That’s not to say that setting and working towards goals is not important, however, to teach ourselves to be fully engaged with the process and the path it takes to reach those goals is often a novel and elusive concept in our future-oriented way of life. Many of you have engaged in various forms of mindfulness unknowingly (i.e. taking a few deep breaths, visualizing your happy place, smelling the flowers in the garden), as a way to manage the natural ebb and flow of life. In order to fully understand mindfulness, one must experience it, as it is a connective pathway between the mind and body. Through engagement of our senses, we can gain a deeper perspective of not just ourselves, but the world around us, in turn, paving the way for a more fulfilling and satisfying life.
The scientific community has defined mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). In other words, mindfulness is the act of bringing our attention and awareness to the present moment without judging the experience. The nonjudgmental nature of mindfulness imparts an attitude of acceptance towards our inner and outer circumstances – providing the tools that permit acceptance of all situations as they are. Thus, by seeing things as they truly are in this moment in time, we are able to acknowledge the feelings that arise and use them as an avenue of growth and compassion towards oneself. The daily practice of mindfulness raises our awareness to our physical and psychological state of being, allowing us to assess situations in order respond skillfully and intentionally.
The heightened attentiveness brought on by everyday mindfulness practices have been associated with increased self-awareness and the capacity to make adaptive decisions about how to approach challenging and difficult situations as they occur. This present state of being in the here-and-now also enhances our ability to experience joy and positive emotions while experiencing pleasurable moments in life. Thus, the acceptance of the inevitability of negative emotions as a typical part of life reduces the often detrimental reactions to circumstances that are unchangeable and thus, enable one to move forward. Accordingly, permitting one to survive negative circumstances without engaging in maladaptive and harmful behaviors.
With over 10,000 published research articles demonstrating its efficacy, individuals who regularly apply mindfulness strategies into their daily routine may notice the following long-term physical and psychological benefits:
- Higher levels of energy and enthusiasm for living
- Increased experience of calm and relaxation
- Increased self-confidence and self-acceptance
- Less likely to experience feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, addiction or low immune efficiency
- More self-compassion and compassion for others
“When you drink just drink, when you walk just walk” — Zen saying
When we make the conscious decision to live life more mindfully, we begin to cultivate that childlike sense of wonder and curiosity about the world again, and feel more connected not just to ourselves, but to the world we inhabit – this new shift in perspective can ultimately save us from merely existing to actually living.
Here is one simple exercise that can get you started on your path towards living more mindfully:
How are you Feeling? Check in with your breath. By observing our breath you can make a tremendous difference to how you feel.
Breath is life energy. Restricted breathing diminishes our capacity to live life to the fullest. Often times feelings of frustration or agitation are accompanied by shallow and short breathing. Try this method to enhance your breathing:
- Take a moment to notice your breathing. Is it shallow or deep, slow or fast, smooth or rough, regular or irregular? Do you tend to push it or hold it? By exploring your breathing with this curiosity, you are actively raising your awareness to where you are in this specific moment in time – further connecting you to how you are feeling.
- Use this as your baseline and continue to watch and observe your breathing. Any difference you notice can help you gain insight while allowing you to experience a more energetic self and feel a greater sense of joy and excitement for life again.