Mindfulness: How to Practice and Why

Mindfulness simply means to focus on the present – what’s happening right now, at this very moment, and not what might happen tomorrow or the next day, or what happened yesterday, last year or decades ago. In its most basic form, it involves observing the present without judgement, focusing one’s full attention on the breath as it goes in and out while experiencing sensations, feelings and thoughts without judging them.

A Wealth of Mental and Physical Health Benefits

There have been many scientific studies that have proven both physical and mental benefits of mindfulness.

Easing Depression and Anxiety. Multiple scientific studies have shown a reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms, including a 1998 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Medical and premedical students reported fewer symptoms after participating in mindfulness-based stress reduction training for an eight-week period. When Boston University researchers analyzed 39 different studies of study focused on people who received mindfulness-based therapy for conditions that included depression and anxiety, the experts found mindfulness to be a “promising intervention.”

Reducing Chronic Pain. Research conducted in 2016 found that mindfulness can reduce chronic pain even more effectively than standard treatments. The reason behind it is that it’s believed to soothe brain patterns that underlie the pain, and over time, those changes take root, actually altering brain structure so that sufferers no longer feel pain with the same intensity – some have said they barely notice it at all. Mindfulness has even been prescribed by hospital pain clinics to help ease pain from migraines, back problems, arthritis, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome and more.

Improving Memory. Short-term memory can become a challenge, especially for older people and those who suffer from mental illness, but one recent study showed that mindfulness training can help. People who learned to focus on their breath or body sensations, how to be more aware of what’s happening around them and how to redirect their attention when their minds wandered, were shown to have improved short-term memory and even a larger hippocampi, which meant that it resulted in structural differences in the brain.

Boosting Stamina and Energy. Mindfulness can even help boost energy and stamina levels, both physically and mentally. With present moment awareness, you’re thinking about now, not wasting energy dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. When you do this, it gives your brain a break from overthinking. It reduces worrying and anxious thoughts, helping you to accept the experience rather than fight against it, easing muscular tension at the same time.

Mindfulness Techniques to Try

There are many different mindfulness techniques that can be used to enjoy its many benefits.

Focusing on the breath. One of the most common forms of mindfulness involves simply watching the breath:

  • Set a timer, starting with one minute and building up to 10 minutes over time.
  • Sit or lie down in a relaxed, comfortable position wearing loose clothing that doesn’t constrict.
  • Close your eyes, breathing like you would normally, allowing yourself to relax while paying attention to your body and all the sensations you’re feeling, such as your connection to the chair or the floor. If you notice any areas that are tight or tense, try to relax them.
  • Tune into your breath, feeling the natural flow as you inhale and exhale. You don’t need to change your breath, just pay attention to it as you breathe naturally.
  • You may notice that your mind begins to wander. This is natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered and then gently redirect your attention to your breath.
  • When your alarm sounds, just before opening your eyes, notice your body and all the sensations you feel.

Keep a Gratitude Journal. Expressing gratitude is a form of mindfulness – keeping a gratitude journal is a daily record of what you’re grateful for each day. The brain is designed to remember things that can go wrong rather than right so that you don’t keep making the same mistakes, but it can also mean that you end up focusing more on the negative. The antidote is gratitude. All you need is a pen and notebook, taking a few quiet minutes each day to yourself to write down at least three things you feel grateful for, or that went well for you.

Spend Time in Nature. If you have trouble sitting quietly, focusing on your breath, you might want to consider a more active form of mindfulness, such as taking a walk through the forest or on the beach, swimming or paddling in a lake, and so on. While you do, focus your attention on the moment, the sounds you hear, the sights you see, any sensations, and your breath.

Mindful eating. Yet another way to be mindful, is to practice mindful eating. Try practicing mindful eating with Manukora by sitting down at a table, instead of a couch or at your desk. Turn your phone off, focusing only on the food on your plate. You may want to enjoy some calming music in the background to help keep you more relaxed. The practice calls for engaging all your senses by paying full attention to the meal in front of you. Notice how it makes you feel and what each bite tastes like – you may even want to try and identify all the ingredients in your meal, which naturally helps you slow down, focus on the present and eat more mindfully. It’s the opposite of chowing down your lunch quickly at your desk or mindlessly munching on chips while you watch your favorite show, allowing you to enjoy it more while supporting better digestion.

This exercise is fun to try with your friends –you can have a laugh while learning how to eat more mindfully. Place a half-teaspoon of manuka honey on a plate. Sit on the floor, quietly breathing for perhaps a minute to quiet the mind. When you’re ready, use a spoon to put the honey into your mouth, allowing it to sit on your tongue, focusing your full attention to all its sensations, the flavor and texture. After a minute or two, swallow the honey while continuing to notice every sensation you feel.

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