What is mindfulness
We train our bodies to become fit, flexible and healthy, however, we often ignore our minds which may lead to unhealthy or troubled ways of being.
Learning mindfulness enables you to develop a healthier mind and have more choice in how you react to daily demands. Neuro-scientific research indicates that people who have a regular mindfulness practice are calmer, more focused, more relaxed, more productive, and happier than others.
We often find that when we are stressed, depressed, anxious or suffering from pain or chronic illness, we tend to act in a habitual manner, adopting ways of coping which may not help us and could actually exacerbate the problem. We may be continuously thinking of ways to resolve our problems or to distract ourselves by overeating, drinking too much or procrastinating. We may be judgmental, criticizing ourselves in a way that is harsh and unkind. This can leave us feeling exhausted, debilitated, with our confidence and self-esteem spiraling ever downwards.
When we become mindful, paying attention to the breath, the body, thoughts and feelings, we are able to fully be with our experience. This can help us notice when we are engaged in automatic negative thinking, being judgmental or entertaining our inner critic. We develop wisdom and the skillful means to relate more effectively to our difficulties in a way that is kind and compassionate. Accepting what we cannot change and letting go of resistance to what is actually happening. This liberates us to start to really feel alive rather than living life on automatic pilot.
We are not striving to change anything but paradoxically by becoming present to all of our experience we often discover that life becomes more enjoyable. We are able to develop a more intimate relationship with ourselves and enjoy improved relationships with others. We also become more productive and happy.
Mindfulness has been proven to promote emotional well-being. Neuroscientists researching mindfulness have found that it can change the inner workings and circuitry of the brain. The rising awareness of the beneficial impacts of mindfulness are evidence-based on empirical studies that combine elements of eastern meditation with cognitive therapy. Mindfulness is increasingly being used in organisations and in schools to enable people to function more effectively.
Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate stress or other difficulties; instead, by becoming aware of and accepting unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise because of challenging situations, we have more choice in how to handle them in the moment — and a better chance of reacting calmly and empathetically when faced with stress or challenges. Of course, practicing mindfulness does not mean we do not feel strong emotions such as anger — rather it helps to inform us that we are feeling and allows us to be more thoughtful in how we want to respond, whether that’s calmly and empathetically or with a measured direct expression of the emotions and sensations we are experiencing.
Meditation is the formal training ground for learning mindfulness. At first, we meditate to become familiar with the here and now for a limited period of time. However, mindfulness can also be practiced informally with a multitude of activities that bring us into the present moment, draw awareness to our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations and help us unhook from our inner narrative. Over time, regularly practicing mindfulness helps us develop the ability to be present throughout the day, every day and encourages us to fully embrace the full range of life’s experiences.
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In an era when it is becoming increasingly evident to quantify that meditation reduces stress and supports mental and physical health, there is another value proposition that is also worth considering. Although not as easy to measure, meditation appears to also allow us to become more true to ourselves in the way we are and the way we relate to others. Could it therefore be said that meditation allows us space to become more authentic?