The Practicalities of Mindfulness

What is mindfulness?

Considering its popularity, a simple explanation of the meaning of mindfulness is surprisingly difficult to come by [i] but speaking generally, it can be defined as an ancient construct originating from Eastern philosophy, of being aware of your internal self and your surroundings, in the moment, without any judgments or attachments.  Simply put, mindfulness means truly being in the present moment.

How is mindfulness used? How effective is it?

The applications of mindfulness today tend to be two-fold; one concerned with personal growth through mindfulness based meditation and the other, interested in applying the research into clinical interventions.  The popularity of both has been rising fast due to the emergence of much supportive beneficiary evidence although many now warn against the dangers of prescribing mindfulness as a miracle cure-all.  The outlook for mindfulness still remains promising; an empirical review of the research on the effects of mindfulness on psychological health has confirmed many positive effects such as increased subjective well-being, reduced emotional reactivity, and improved overall behavioral regulation. [ii] Researchers are rightfully calling for more high quality evidence but there is still wonderful prospects to be gained from the practice in the meantime.

Why and how could mindfulness techniques be implemented?

Perhaps, on some level, we already innately understand the importance of “staying in the present moment” which would explain why some people seem to have an inclination towards being mindful naturally, “trait mindfulness” as it’s defined in research.  Whatever the attribution to the popularity of mindfulness, it’s worth considering implementing the practices into our daily lives to see if they can positively contribute to our wellness too.

1.     Reflect on your own natural mindfulness tendencies. Are you someone who is able to keep a clear head in a heated discussion or do you let your emotions control your actions? Are you someone who completes tasks with care or do you tend to rush through them? The “Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire” available here may be a great place to start in helping you understand yourself.

2.     Analyse your use of stimulants. It’s not uncommon for people in the West to rush through the days with the support of various pick-me-ups along the way.  Coffee and sugary drinks to energize. Sweets and comfort foods to numb.  Alcohol to relax.   Instead of just consuming the products, think about why you are reaching for them in the first place. Awareness can be powerful in helping to overcome these unhealthful habits.

3.     Practice self-care. Prioritize taking care of yourself with the use of gentle and quick tools such as breathing exercises, guided meditations, or simple low-intensity yoga routines. These all aim for increase inner awareness and figuratively bring the world around you to stillness.  

4.     Eat to nourish your body. Everything eaten should be nourishing; filling us with the nutrients we need to not only survive, but to thrive.  Analyze how the food you eat makes you feel.  Does where and how you consume your food matter? Do you want to feel your best all of the time? Once you make this connection it should be easier to make better choices.

5.     Practice minimalism. Consider whether spending money on experiences and education over material possessions could be better for your development.  Would you rather be shopping or spending time quality time with friends or family? Perhaps try taking a mental inventory of everything you own and consider if it weighs you down? Simplifying your possessions could provide you with more space and clarity, inside and out.

6.    Gratitude.  Focus on the amazingness that you already have, rather then what you may be lacking.  Consider trying a simple (but highly effective) exercise that involves writing down three things for which you are grateful every day. I believe it works because it forces you to realize the beautiful simplicity of life and how little we truly need to be happy.

[i] Chiesa, A. (2013). The difficulty of defining mindfulness: Current thought and critical issues. Mindfulness, 4(3), 255-268. [ii] Keng, S. L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clinical psychology review, 31(6), 1041-1056.