You may have heard that term in recent health news and wonder what it is all about. Mindfulness means paying attention (being mind-ful) in three ways: on purpose, in-the-moment, and without judgment.
• Paying attention on purpose means being intentional about how we notice our surroundings, our own bodily sensations, and interactions with other people. Stop and take the role of an observer.
• Being in-the-moment means not fretting the future or regretting the past, but appreciating the present. Quiet the mind chatter. Breathe.
• Without judgment means withholding any negative commentary about yourself and others. Let go of guilt and critical thoughts so you can more readily experience the current situation.
What are the benefits?
The underlying idea behind mindfulness is that by increasing our ability to regulate our attention, we can reduce stress and enjoy some health benefits. There is growing body of research touting the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness based stress reduction. In the last ten years, significant research has shown mindfulness to improve health aspects like lower blood pressure; boost the immune system; improve attention and focus; help with anxiety and depression; enhance well-being; reduce emotional reactivity; and increase brain function in area of decision making, emotional flexibility, and empathy. Practicing mindfulness can reduce symptoms related to anxiety, chronic pain, depression, insomnia and stress. It can also heighten attention and memory and decrease inflammatory biomarkers, such as cytokines. Research using imaging technology has also shown that mindfulness practices can actually change the brain to increase the size and activity of areas associated with executive function, thereby increasing clarity, cognitive function and effectiveness. Another major benefit of mindfulness is improved sleep quality.
There is a definite mind-body connection when it comes to controlling stress. When we feel calm and centered, we experience a reduction in stress. This in turn, reduces inflammation in the body, decreasing the symptoms of many health conditions which allows the body to respond more effectively to treatment.
How can I practice mindfulness?
You can bring mindfulness into your life in many ways. Mindfulness can be trained methodically, and can be implemented in daily life by anybody regardless of age, profession or background. You can practice mindfulness through breathing, eating, awareness of bodily sensations , thoughts, emotions, communication, walking and other activities such as yoga or tai chi. As you incorporate mindfulness into different areas of your day, it becomes more of a natural response throughout the day, not just during formal practice periods. You are building resilience during practice so that when stress arises during the day, your body has a natural default.
To get started, check out Ohio State’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness free mindfulness recordings. UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center also offers free guided meditation tracks. Find out what mindfulness can do for you.