Mindfulness Benefits and How to Apply Them in Your Life
Feel like your mind is jumping around, from subject to subject with no end in sight? Perhaps you go from thought to thought and many times find the thoughts are fear-based or critical? This is known as the monkey mind and mindfulness is a practice that can help you to calm an unsettled mind.
The monkey mind becomes a problem when it is continually jumping from one thought to another, similar to a monkey jumping from tree to tree causing one to be under siege, with negative thoughts, fear, or doubts.
Practicing mindfulness is a way to turn that around. Mindfulness can help you to decrease stress and anxiety while increasing your emotional regulation, resilience, and happiness levels without drugs, mood-altering substances, or even hypnosis.
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, without judgment, and being open and curious to whatever arises. We know that the last moment is gone, and the future moment has not arrived yet, and all we have is the present moment. Being present in the moment can be grounding as well as healing.
Today mindfulness has entered the research laboratory, and we are exploring brain states associated with meditation practice. We can also track and monitor physiological changes associated with meditation, including blood pressure, heart rate, and immune response. Using fMRI and other technologies we can see into the brain, and document the amygdala, the bodies fight or flight center shrinking with regular mindfulness practice.
As the amygdala shrinks, our pre-frontal cortex (the area of the brain associated with awareness, concentration, and decision making) becomes thicker.
What this all means for you is that when you practice meditation, you activate and connect regions of the brain to help you with concentration, awareness, and emotional regulation.
Emotional regulation is a powerful skillset to have in our fast-paced, technology-driven world. Emotional regulation allows you to respond rather than react to a situation. Mindfulness meditation can develop emotional regulation by allowing disturbing emotions and thoughts to pass without judgment and with awareness and acceptance.
Mindfulness is the practice that can take you from reacting to responding to an emotional situation. Imagine if you could control your anxiety, stress, and reactions to emotional situations? How valuable would that be in your life?
Most people don’t realize that they can control their reactions and lead a happier healthier life. So how do we do it? Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways. You are probably familiar with seeing the person sitting in lotus pose; eyes closed, meditating, and this is considered formal meditation.
But there’s also informal meditation, which are everyday activities that can support mindfulness and be done anytime, anywhere. Perhaps you are running, biking, or even washing dishes. As long as you are focused on that one thing, without letting your mind wander, that’s considered informal mindful meditation. Standing on line in a store, washing dishes, vacuuming, driving the car all are considered informal mindfulness practice. What these activities have in common, is the opportunity to pay attention to sense perceptions at the moment: what one can see, hear, taste, or touch.
Even walking or petting your dog is considered practicing informal mindfulness. Try it by paying attention to all your senses as you stay present in the moment. When I walk my dog, I smell the plumeria, feel the warm sun on my skin, notice where I place my feet as I walk. As I walk if I find my mind wandering to work or a meeting or what I need to do that day, I just come back to the present moment with my dog.
Golfing is an excellent example of informal mindfulness practice. When you play, staying present in the moment is essential for a good game. Golf requires you to focus on your body, as you are swinging the club, moving the body and head. You cannot get immersed in the past and how you played before this game because you know it will mess up your present game.
With all of these activities, it’s best to set an intention to be mindful of our experience. You can choose a particular activity as your mindfulness practice. Remember to be gentle with yourself as you embark on your mindfulness journey.
Here’s a short mindfulness practice to give you a little experience of what it’s all about.
1. Start by sitting comfortably on a cushion or in a chair. Close your eyes if you like or leave them open and lower your gaze toward the floor.
2. Just breathe. Breathe as you normally would. There’s nothing special to do or make happen. And then draw your attention to the physical sensation of each breath. You might notice the rising and falling of your abdomen or chest. Or you might notice the air moving in and out through your nose or mouth. With each breath, guide attention as best as you’re able back to your breathing. Breathing in and breathing out.
3. Be kind to your busy mind. Almost immediately, and many times over, we’ll find ourselves distracted. Our attention will always wonder—that’s what it does. That’s normal and will always be a part of our experience—both in meditation and in life. You might find that your attention wanders toward a sound, or a thought, or a sensation. Without giving yourself a hard time, return your attention to the sensation of breathing.
4. When your mind wanders, gently return it to noticing your breathing. If something grabs your attention—a bird singing, a noise in the room—notice that happened, and then let it go as best as you’re able. Come back to the breath without expecting anything more. For a few moments, allow yourself to settle.
5. There’s nothing to do or fix. Sometimes, our mind remains busy and caught up during meditation. Noticing that, practice patience. We cannot force our minds into stillness, and that’s never the intention. Right now, in this moment, there’s nothing to fix or do. Whether you find the experience pleasant, unpleasant, or otherwise, allow everything to be for a few moments.
6. Return to the breath. Breathing in and breathing out, return your attention to the breath once again.
7. When you’re ready, gently open your eyes. Pause for a moment, and then decide how you’d like to continue with the rest of your day.