Mindfulness is a muscle
Mindfulness is the practice of being present within our experiences in the moment, without judgement. It isn’t about clearing the mind of all thoughts, but rather being aware of our thoughts and feelings and sitting with them. Every moment can be approached with mindfulness, even the simple act of taking one deep breath and consciously relaxing the shoulders. Mindfulness takes different forms, but the idea is to find and focus your awareness, whatever that means to you.
General mindfulness research has found the practice to have various benefits. It can reduce depression and anxiety, decrease stress and sadness, and increase levels of focus and happiness. It leads people to focus on the present, rather than the past or the future. Depression often centers on a past event, and anxiety is a feeling of worry or unease about something in the future. Bringing your attention to the present moment releases focus on the past or future.
Mindfulness is a skill that requires practice. When you start learning to build muscle through weightlifting, you start with small weights and gradually increase them. The same approach applies to mindfulness. Start with short activities and adjust over time to figure out what works best for your life. Some people practice meditation, where they practice focusing their attention for a specific amount of time. This could mean concentrating on the breath, the body, or the environment. Dispositional mindfulness is awareness and presence in everyday activities, like focusing on the sensations in your feet as you walk down the street.
Mindfulness can also be applied to eating. Distracted, hurried eating may add pounds and take away enjoyment. A growing body of research suggests that a slower, more thoughtful way of eating could help with weight problems and steer people towards healthier food choices. Applied to eating, mindfulness involves noticing the colors, scents, flavors, and textures of food. It also means chewing slowly and removing distractions like screens or reading.
A mindfulness practice doesn’t require a big-time commitment. There is no evidence that a specific amount of time is necessary to learn mindfulness skills. Meditation apps offer sessions ranging from 1 minute to over an hour. Simply having a mindful meal once a day is a great way to bring the practice to a daily activity that would be happening anyway. The key to a successful practice is finding what works for you. While mental health and well-being at work have been brought into the spotlight in the unpredictability of today’s world, the benefits of a thoughtful and intentional mindfulness practice will translate into a post-pandemic future.
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