The Practice of Mindfulness: What It Is, and How It Can Help
Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally paying attention to the present moment without judging your response to what is happening. It can be practiced while doing anything at any time and can be solely reflective, or active, or a combination.
If you are ever trying to get something done but are thinking about other things, worrying about things, or working on “auto-pilot” and feeling zoned out, these are examples of times you have not been mindful. We all have many times when we do not do things mindfully. And that is ok! But if we can do things mindfully, it can benefit our emotional health and help us be better at dealing with day to day life.
Have you ever been doing something and felt totally relaxed, focused, and energized? That was a mindful moment!
Or been on a walk and felt intensely aware of the beautiful details of the trees, rocks, and scenery around you? That was a mindful moment!
Mindfulness exercises serve as effective and research-supported tools that everyone can benefit from. Mindfulness is sometimes - but not always - linked with spiritual practices. Many of the world’s major religious traditions, including Christianity, Buddhism, and others, practice types of prayer or contemplation that include mindfulness techniques. But mindfulness does not require any specific religious or spiritual belief structure, and in our discussion here we are focusing on the research-supported benefits of mindfulness practice.
For many people, the goal of mindfulness is to reduce suffering (pain or stress) while also increasing joy and happiness. Mindfulness may also help you be present in your own life.
How can I practice mindfulness?
- By Noticing your Thinking Patterns. Our minds are often very busy, bouncing around from topic to topic. In just a few minutes our minds can dive into an incredible number of topics. The problem is, this type of thinking often doesn’t help us solve problems. They also make us less able to pay attention to the present moment, which makes us less able to enjoy ourselves and focus on what we need to do in the moment. Increasing awareness of your thoughts is a powerful step in learning to be mindful.
- By Slowing Down your Thinking. Once you are aware of just how much your mind can bounce around, you are ready to start to slow down your mind and improve your focus on the present moment. Take a brief pause to focus on the sights and sounds you are experiencing.
- By Increasing Awareness. Many people will begin a mindfulness practice by tuning into their body and noticing their experience of breathing (for example, you might notice the temperature is different in your breath when you inhale and exhale). You may become aware of other parts of your body as well (for example, noticing subtle sensations in your hands or feet) or notice aspects of your environment (for example, noticing sounds or colors that you have not noticed before).
- By Paying Attention. Mindfulness is like exercise for your brain. Your awareness is going to wander frequently; you may find yourself drifting away to think about your grocery list, or plans for the day. While this is normal, mindfulness instructs you to gently redirect your awareness back to your breath whenever it wanders.
- By Developing a Willingness to Suspend Judgment. Being mindful can be difficult. As you notice your mind wandering, it can be easy to judge yourself (for example, “I am bad at this, my mind is wandering again!” or “Why am I not relaxed doing this? I must be doing it wrong!”). An important part of mindfulness is having compassion towards yourself. Simply noticing your mind wandering and bringing your attention back to your breath should be considered a success. With practice, you will become more skilled in staying mindful and in being kind to yourself when your attention strays. When we think of mindfulness, a key component is: ACCEPTANCE, NO JUDGMENT.
Free Mindfulness Apps
Developed by the National Center for PTSD.
Developed by the Department of Defense's National Center for Telehealth & Technology.