Many people are talking about ‘Mindfulness’, including doctors, therapists, yoga instructors and even educators. I feel it is important to clarify what we mean by this, as it refers to some ideas which are not new, but quite old. Mindfulness essentially means to pay attention to the present moment in an open and purposeful way.
When we are being mindful we are awake to what is happening inside us, and in our surrounding environment:
What is happening right now? Are there birds singing? Am I uncomfortable in my chair? Am I feeling irritated about a conversation I had yesterday? What is happening with my breathing?
It means slowing our entire human experience down to just what is happening now. It also means being accepting to whatever those things are. As most of you probably know, this is not easy, as we are wired for problem-solving, completing tasks, and avoiding things that may cause us pain or harm. Our brains are very helpful, and have catapulted our species and aided us in creative and intellectual endeavors. But, how do our brains relate to our happiness? And is being stuck in our head all of the time serving us well?
Now, given all of this, why would someone want to practice mindfulness? Essentially, practicing mindfulness will greatly increase your quality of life and well-being. It is helpful for some people to think about it as training for the mind, in the same way exercise is training for the body. In addition to these important reasons, there are currently rapidly growing scientific research backing the benefits of a mindfulness practice, to work with specific mental health conditions (such as anxiety, depression, phobias) as well as medical conditions. For many people, the results of mindfulness practice inevitably reduce their level of stress. Learning to manage modern-day living in a healthier way is a very common reason why people are attracted to begin practicing.
Okay, so now what? For many people, a mindfulness practice means practicing mindfulness meditation. But, it can also mean living our life and doing what we normally do with a mindfulness bent: eating mindfully, walking mindfully, or speaking mindfully. Really, the list could go on and on. The important piece is just choosing somewhere to start, and making it doable.