The most basic definition of mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what is happening in the present moment, both inside you and around you. It’s truly no more complicated than that. Many have the misconception that mindfulness is about feeling good; feeling peaceful and focused, but you can also be mindful of anger, sadness and stress. It is simply an awareness of what is happening in the here and now, without judgment.
As an element of Buddhism’s Eightfold Path, mindfulness is a step towards a greater understanding of how to lead an enlightened life, where we learn to let go of suffering and find spiritual liberation. However in the non-Buddhist perspective, practicing mindfulness on its own has many benefits too.
Mindfulness can yield reduced stress, decreased depression and anxiety, increased focus and concentration, improved work performance and a greater sense of well-being. This is because we’re often worried about the future: about what might happen, the unknowns, our to-do list, and our fears. We’re also frequently pulled by thoughts of the past, whether that’s anger, regret, shame or trauma over an unfortunate event. Focusing on the here and now can release us from the burdens of the past or the future.
In practicing mindfulness, we can become more aware of our internal environment (like our feelings, our bodily sensations or our thoughts) or we can be aware of our external environment (like our relationships, our community or our environment). However, mindfulness is not about changing, fixing things or making problems go away. A lot of problems arise when we deny that they are there, when we avoid or when we numb ourselves.
Instead, mindfulness is like turning on the light of a dark room. Only when we can fully see the clutter in our home can we go about cleaning up and creating a healing space. Only when we’re more aware of our problems or emotions will we be able to more fully address or accept them. Similarly, mindfulness can also shed light on the beautiful things in life, creating balance by helping us to experience and enjoy the positive moments alongside the negative.
- Mindful Breathing – For those of us just beginning the practice of mindfulness, one of the most helpful things we can do is be mindful of our breath. Why? Our breath is with us wherever we go. It’s free, and it can help ground us in the here and now.
We can begin by simply being aware of our in-breath and our out-breath. In this moment, say silently to yourself, “Breathing in… I am aware that I am breathing in. Breathing out… I am aware that I am breathing out.” Continue for as long as you’d like.
- Mindful Walking – We’re so often rushing from one place to another, thinking of what happens when we get to our destination—our tasks or our to-do lists. Mindful walking is simply the process of slowing down.
Our goal when we walk mindfully is not necessarily to arrive at our destination. Instead, we want to fully arrive in the here and now. We can be aware of our steps as our feet make contact with the ground. We can be aware of the sky, or nature around us. We can even be aware of our breath as we are walking. Slow down, breathe and enjoy the journey.
- Mindful Eating – When eating, we tend to multitask. We sit at our desk and work while having lunch, we talk on our phones or chat with those in front of us, we watch TV or scroll through social media. There’s nothing wrong with multitasking, but the practice of mindful eating involves focusing only on your food and your five senses.
As we’re eating, we can give ourselves a five minute timer. For five minutes, we eat in silence, without any distractions. We focus only on our food, looking at the colors, smelling the aromas, chewing slowly and savoring the flavors. Not only can this provide a restful and enjoyable experience, but it can help us moderate how much we eat. Instead of rushing through, we’re able to register when we’re full and feel more satiated when we’re done.
Anything that helps us get out of our head and into our bodies can become a practice in mindfulness. Athletic activity can be mindful, gardening, dancing and sometimes even doing the dishes can be done in mindfulness. With each mindful breath or mindful step, we can savor moments of peace and freedom throughout our daily life.
Mindfulness can be a deep and life-changing personal choice. If you feel that your life is passing you by without meaning, that you’re floating through life without fully experiencing it, devoting some time to mindful practice can help you slow down and truly be present for your life; for yourself and for others around you. It can make life much fuller, richer and more worth living.
Ethos Behavioral Health Group clinicians can help guide you towards leading a more mindful life, where you feel fully tied to the present instead of pulled by the past or future, reducing stress and other negative emotions. If you’d like to begin a journey towards mindfulness or meditation, or simply to become more in touch with your emotions and thoughts, reach out to us confidentially below.
About The Author
Nhu-Mai Nguyen, LMSW is a clinician at Ethos’ The PRISM Center. She is also a Licensed Massage Therapist and certified yoga instructor with more than 10 years of mindfulness experience. As an ordained student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, known as the grandfather of mindfulness, she has traveled nationwide for mindfulness teaching tours and has lived at his monasteries, training alongside the Buddhist monks and nuns. Nhu-Mai enjoys teaching mindfulness that is true to its origin and roots.