Practicing mindfulness can bring a wide range of benefits to both our personal and professional lives. Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness improves brain capacity, creativity and problem solving, and can help to prevent and treat depression.
Yet very few individuals practice mindfulness or meditation on a regular basis.
For many, the cause is insufficient knowledge on the subject. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to start with defining what mindfulness actually means.
What is Mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is the basic ability to be fully present in the moment, conscious of where we are and what we are doing, without being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
It’s about focusing on the here and now, instead of replaying thoughts and emotions from the past, or fretting about the future.
What Happens If You’re Not Mindful?
A lack of mindfulness can have quite serious effects on our overall health. One of the most common conditions associated with not being present in the moment is anxiety.
Many professionals spend unnecessary brain power chewing over events that happened in the past or thinking about occasions that are approaching in the future. This leads to increased anxiety, reduced productivity and increased distraction.
For instance, lawyers often spend a great deal of time thinking about worst-case scenarios during a trial, which often leads to anxiety. A 2013 study showed that by practicing mindfulness, 93 patients with General Anxiety Disorder were able to greatly reduce their symptoms by focusing on the moment.
Other signs that you aren’t being mindful enough include:
- Struggling to sleep due to thoughts racing through your head
- Struggling to remember new names (when you’re not in the moment, you’re not paying attention)
- You find very little enjoyment in everyday unwinding activities (such as watching television)
- You feel disconnected from friends and colleagues because you’re not paying attention to verbal cues and body language
- You’re addicted to your phone and the distraction it can provide
How Does Practicing Mindfulness Help?
Practicing mindfulness can improve your overall health and wellbeing just as much as making a considered lifestyle change such as improving your nutritional choices.
In actual fact, studies have shown that mindfulness physically rebuilds the brain.
Researchers from the Harvard Medical School put a group of individuals through a programme of practicing mindfulness for 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks. After completion the participants were examined via an MRI scan for look for any changes in the brain.
Incredibly, researchers found that there were large increases in grey matter in the hippocampus region of the brain which is responsible for learning and memory. Conversely, the scans showed a reduction in the amygdala region of the brain which is connected to anxiety and stress.
So if you want to reduce anxiety and improve your brain’s processing capabilities how can you incorporate mindfulness practice into your daily routine?
How to Start Practicing Mindfulness
With so many potential benefits to be gained from mindfulness, it’s likely that you’ll want to start incorporating it into your daily routine. Start by committing to a short daily meditation practice so you’re unlikely to ever become too busy to find time to carry it out.
It’s best to start in a seated position and close your eyes if necessary. Begin by breathing inwards and outwards in long, slow, and deep breaths. Focus on your breathing, focus on how your body is feeling and block out any thoughts you may have about the day ahead of you or the one you’ve just left behind you.
Start by doing this exercise for two minutes every day, then increase by a minute per day until you hit 10 minutes. After a few weeks reevaluate and see how practicing mindfulness is working for you. It could be the case that you feel that you need to meditate for longer (or shorter), or change when and where you practice.
Everyone practices mindfulness slightly differently; it’s about finding something that works for you.
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