Do you often find yourself spending your present moments either thinking about the past or worrying about the future? The Buddhists say that we have “monkey minds,” with thoughts that bounce from place to place like monkeys swinging from tree to tree. As a result, we rarely appreciate and savor the present.
Mindfulness, a concept that has existed in Buddhism for the past 2,600 years, is essentially an attempt to live more in the moment by actively and consciously attending to the present. It involves accepting your thoughts and feelings without judging them to be either right or wrong. In practicing mindfulness, it’s important to tune into your senses in the present moment, instead of ruminating about the past or imagining the future.
Research shows both physical and mental benefits of practicing mindfulness, some of which emerge within just a few weeks. Mindfulness improves immune system function, reduces chronic pain and lowers blood pressure. People that practice mindfulness report lower levels of stress and higher levels of happiness, self-esteem and acceptance. Mindfulness has also been found to improve the function of brain regions involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation and empathy. Being anchored in the present tense reduces depression, binge-eating and attention problems which are rooted in impulsivity and reactivity. Interpersonal relationships have also been found to improve as mindful and aware individuals are more accommodating and less defensive with their close ones.
So how can you try to cultivate mindfulness in your own life? One way to do so is through formal meditation, but that’s not the only way. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the pioneers of mindfulness in mainstream medicine, says “It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment.” He identifies some key components of mindfulness:
- Pay attention to your breathing, especially when feeling intense emotions.
- Consciously be aware of the sights, sounds and smells around you.
- Realize that your thoughts and emotions are transient to free yourself from negative thought patterns.
- Tune into the physical sensations that your body feels, e.g. focus on the way water feels on your skin in the shower
You might already be practicing elements of mindfulness in your daily life without realizing it. Here is a quiz that gauges how mindful you already are: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/4/.
For ways to introduce mindfulness in your life, you can check out this link outlining “Six Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today”: https://www.pocketmindfulness.com/6-mindfulness-exercises-you-can-try-today/