Mindfulness is on everyone’s to-do list these days, but it can be easy to miss the mark when trying to practice it. Mindfulness can be practiced in an abundance of ways, such as meditation practices, yoga, and simply paying closer attention to your experiences in the moment.
Have you ever tried to practice mindfulness? Let me guess, you sat or laid on the floor, closed your eyes and attempted to achieve a blank mind? After 20 minutes of trying, you thought “I can’t do this” and decided that mindfulness just wasn’t for you!
Guess what? We are here to tell you that mindfulness is a learned behavior which means that everyone can practice mindfulness. Though it may be difficult at first, it’s a skill that can be developed with proper guidance and consistent practice.
MINDFULNESS: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT.
To really understand mindfulness, it can be easier to start with what mindfulness is not. People often think that mindfulness requires a blank mind. But, mindfulness is not an attempt to eliminate or suppress our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Just as “boots are made for walking”, brains are made for thinking. Your brain will wander and when it does, your ability to turn your attention back to the present moment is the core of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. It is our ability to gently redirect our attention to our experiences in the now.
IS THE HYPE REAL?
There are several reasons why everyone is talking about mindfulness and why you may have had someone in your life talk to you about it. While many practice mindfulness to increase their relaxation and calmness, there are many other advantages to practicing mindfulness such as: reducing stress, decreasing anxiety, decreasing reactivity, increasing emotion-regulation, improving mind-body connection, improving positive affect, improving focus and more.
THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING?
Still not convinced that mindfulness is for you? Need more proof? Here it is.
A research study conducted in 2011 on the effects of mindfulness on brain tissue revealed that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (a form of mindfulness practice) caused an increase in “gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking”(Mercadante & Tadi, 2022) .
Also, Hölzel et. al (2011) highlights that an increase in brain density allows for the development of higher processing and increased mental development within individuals.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Ok, you’ve now bought into it but may be wondering where you go from here. If you are new to mindfulness, practicing a couple of minutes a day, a few times a week can be enough to get started. If you were new to running, you wouldn’t start with a 20-minute run 7 days a week, right?
If you are one of those people who sat down and tried to meditate for 20 minutes to clear your
mind, you may have skipped some steps. Although mindful meditation is one way to practice
mindfulness, learning how to be mindful can be done while doing normal daily activities. For instance, it may be easier to start by noticing the crunch of fall leaves under your feet when you’re out walking, or by listening to your favorite song with your eyes closed and paying close attention to the lyrics or music.
MINDFULNESS IN THERAPY & FOR PERFORMANCE
Although there are specific treatment modalities that use formal practices of mindfulness, mindfulness can also be viewed as the root of therapy. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “awareness is the first step”. Before we can grow and evolve, we must know what we are trying to change. In this way, our ability to simply notice our thoughts, feelings, sensations during th therapeutic process is mindfulness in its purest form. Mindfulness in therapy may look like learning to sit with your emotions and becoming aware of how your emotions are felt in your body.
Moreover, mindfulness is one of the key mental skills that can boost performance. The art of mindfulness helped Kobe Bryant learn “to be neither distracted or focused, rigid or flexible, passive or aggressive. I learned just to be.” -Kobe Bryant
If this blog post resonates with you, and you feel you need some extra support with practicing mindfulness, please feel free to reach out and schedule an appointment with Karelle, the writer of this post.
Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C, Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, Lazar SW. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30;191(1):36-43. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006. Epub 2010 Nov 10. PMID: 21071182; PMCID: PMC3004979.
Mercadante AA, Tadi P. Neuroanatomy, Gray Matter. [Updated 2022 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553239/