For some reason, we crave a distraction from our immediate environment. These actions make less room for mindfulness, an essential practice for peaceful and purposeful living. How can we benefit from the health benefits of mindfulness?
We have perfected the art of paying less attention to our internal and external environments. For some people, they have to listen to music while walking or taking the train. Some have to drink their morning coffee while scrolling through their phones. Others can't eat a meal if they are not watching a show, reading a book, or talking with friends.
With mindfulness, we pay more attention to the present moment, which has a range of health benefits.
The word mindfulness is a derivative of the Pali (Indian) word- Sati, which means the ability to have awareness, attention, and remembering. Mindfulness is a state in which you are aware of your actions as each moment passes4.
We have formed many habits to support our driving, eating, and other daily tasks that we sometimes complete by just going through the motions.
The state of mindfulness counters these motions; Mindfulness involves actively applying yourself to each task. In "What is Mindfulness?" by Jenny Birkett, a meditation and mindfulness practitioner, we are given an in-depth explanation of mindfulness and how it works.
Years ago, scientists believed that the adult brain could not change. Once a person learns a habit or behavioral pattern, there is no going back. The first time a neuroscientist, Santiago Ramon, suggested significant changes in the adult brain, neuropathologists raised a controversial argument.
The standing agreement was that a fixed amount of neurons are available in the human brain6 (responsible for our actions and decisions), which cannot be replaced once they die. Was Ramon trying to say that the brain could regenerate?
Thankfully, science never sleeps, and with research, scientists soon learned about neuroplasticity - the process of change in the wiring and function of the brain, usually to align with the individual's experiences, daily actions, emotions, thoughts, and other data the brain receives.
They discovered that the brain could actually build new neural connections based on daily activities. Including practicing mindfulness. Yep. Mindfulness can push an adult's brain into neuroplasticity to help them break old habits, form new ones, and develop a new attitude towards life.
We have the ability to replace neural pathways, the habits they suggest to us, and our attitude towards life. Here's how you can benefit from this gift using mindfulness.
We encounter different stressors every day, and any one of them, or a combination of some of them, could cause us to lose our emotional control.
Mindfulness techniques can help individuals learn to control their emotions. These practices help us to recover from exposure to stressors and let go of the feelings they might have roused, presenting numerous mental health benefits.
In a study at Michigan State University, participants noticed a significant improvement in how they processed their emotions after being exposed to mindfulness practices2.
Practicing mindfulness allows you to remain present and aware of your moment-by-moment thoughts and actions. This means mindfulness affects how you connect to your inner experiences, such as feelings, ideas, and thoughts as they arise.
You're given more insight into how your mind works by constantly practicing mindfulness. With these insights comes a better understanding of who you are.
Just as mindfulness can help you change yourself, it can help you change your society. It's easy to ignore warnings of any global crisis, such as climate change, plastic pollution, and so on, when one is constantly detached from their environment.
However, mindfulness pushes you to pay attention and stay receptive to the surrounding information.
Research suggests that an individual who practices mindfulness will be better aware of social issues, open to making changes that will help environmental crises, develop better moral values, and extend more help to those in need5.
Mindfulness is one of the best techniques to develop healthy relationships and fix lacking ones. The practice teaches us to be more present and attentive, which will help us to build a better bond with our friends, family, or partners.
Mindfulness also makes us aware of our emotional reactions. The triggers that would push us to a negative reaction (and subsequent relationship issues) can be understood and handled rationally. Mindfulness can help partners out of the common cycle of arguing and placing an emotional distance between themselves.
Mindfulness encourages us to observe the world beyond ourselves and what we think we need. It pushes us to consider other people's perspectives and emotions. As a result, understanding others on a deeper level intensifies our empathy toward them.
Instead of judging people based on what we see or the conclusions we draw, we might feel prompted to put ourselves in their shoes and see the world through their eyes. With this understanding, people may begin to show more compassionate acts towards one another.
If you're a therapist or offer consultations in your field, mindfulness may help improve your services' impact on your clients.
When you are more attentive and receptive, it becomes easier to understand your client's verbal and non-verbal cues and get the full picture of what they are trying to communicate. Mindfulness should also help you stay present during meetings and show compassion quickly when needed.
Clinical trials have shown that mindfulness can effectively reduce anxiety and stress. Some therapists use mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) when working with patients with anxiety due to a secondary illness such as cancer, bipolar disorder, mental health, chronic pain, and so on.
A randomized trial that offered pregnant women with a history of depression mindfulness-based cognitive therapy1 concluded that the mindfulness group benefitted from mindfulness CBT significantly, reducing the risk of recurrence.
Health research suggests that cognitive stimulation therapy, drawing on many mindfulness interventions and techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation, benefits the thinking skills and memory of people suffering from mild dementia3.
Further, psychological stress reduction has also been shown to impact blood pressure positively. Through mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, the observed effect of mindfulness is the positive change in how patients can evaluate their emotions and their feelings in their bodies. As a result, mindfulness appears to affect physical health positively.
The result is an ability for patients to relate differently to their symptoms or situations and become less disturbed by them.
To become mindful, you will need consistent mental training. One of the best-known methods of this training is called mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation practice has been defined as non-judgemental attention to present moment details.
Vipassana is one of the most practiced mindfulness training techniques. It was developed from Buddhist traditions and, when translated from Pali, means 'inward vision'. Bhante Henepola, a Buddhist monk, paints vipassana this way7:
“The meditator uses his concentration as a tool by which his awareness can chip away at the wall of illusion that cuts him off from the living light of reality.”
Vipassana is an ancient tradition that is used to gradually break down distractions and open the human mind to full awareness. It encourages you to discover what is happening around you, within you, and to you. This awareness is what makes mindfulness possible.
If you're a beginner, give this simple vipassana method a try. A mindfulness meditation course can also prove a great way to get started and understand the basics. As you grow in the process, you can try out more intense sessions or consider participating in a yoga retreat.
The present is the only real moment we have. Everything else is either a memory or hope for things to come. As such, the progress we seek in our personal lives, professional lives, and societies we live in, depends on how much we invest in each moment.
Therefore, while you practice mindfulness, remember that it is a gradual process that takes a lifetime to master. Research ties mindfulness training and practice to a range of health benefits. Every time you pull your mind back from its wanderings or consciously avoid a distraction, you build neural connections that will help you realize the health benefits of mindfulness.
Dimidjian S, Goodman SH, Felder JN, Gallop R, Brown AP, Beck A. Staying well during pregnancy and the postpartum: A pilot randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for the prevention of depressive relapse/recurrence. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2016 Feb;84(2):134-45. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000068. Epub 2015 Dec 14. PMID: 26654212; PMCID: PMC5718345.
|Lin Yanli, Fisher Megan E., Roberts Sean M. M., Moser Jason S. Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An Electrophysiological Investigation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience|
Spector A, Thorgrimsen L, Woods R, Royan L, Davies S, Butterworth M, Orrell M (2003)
|M Davis, Daphne & Hayes, Jeffrey. (2011). What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research. Psychotherapy (Chicago, Ill.). 48. 198-208. 10.1037/a0022062.|
|Mindfulness in sustainability science, practice, and teaching. Wamsler, Christine, Brossmann, Johannes, Hendersson, Heidi, Kristjansdottir, Rakel, McDonald, Colin, Scarampi, Phil, Sustainability Science, 2018, 8 January 01 V 13|
|Fuchs, Eberhard & Flugge, Gabriele. (2014). Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research. Neural plasticity. 2014. 541870. 10.1155/2014/541870.|
|Tricycle: What Exactly Is Vipassana Meditation? Vipassana or insight meditation is a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.