There is a lot of talk about mindfulness these days.
But what is mindfulness? How does one become mindful and then maintain a state of mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of remaining aware. Society usually thinks of awareness as something that is directed outward, for example awareness of the weather, of traffic, of what’s happening in the news.
The problem is that outward awareness misses a big piece of the overall awareness equation.
There is a tendency to get lost in events, to identify with something bad or something good that happens. This makes life feel like a constant roller coaster of highs and lows. While it can be fun for a short ride, no one wants to live there all the time. Having a persistent fear of the lows, and a craving for the highs is exhausting.
Finding balance, and developing a sense of inner peace calms the constant turmoil.
Finding the Center
Getting centered in oneself through mindfulness creates a peaceful place. Life is still lived; there are still ups and downs, but they don’t take over one’s entire sense of being.
So where to start?
Many teachers recommend starting with the breath. Breathing is something we all do, all the time. There is a rhythm to it that is mirrored throughout nature: the rising and setting of the sun, the rhythmic pattern of waves washing to shore, and the breath shared by other living beings.
Here are a few steps to begin:
- Find a quiet place and tune in to the breath
- Watch the breath; become aware of how fast it is, how deep it is
- Let go of any desire to control the breath; just feel the natural in and out-flow
- Become aware of how the in-breath and the out-breath are connected
- The in-breath settles deep into the lungs, then melts into the out-breath
- The out-breath releases air from the lungs, and then melts into the in-breath
- Breathing becomes a constant flowing circle of air
- Become aware of how the belly rises and falls with the circular breath
- Feel the body respond to the gentle in and out-flow of the breath
- Remain in this space
Once you develop breath awareness, it can be practiced nearly anywhere: during stressful meetings, while standing in line, out in nature, before falling asleep at night.
What does the Research Say?
There is interest in studying mindfulness, meditation and awareness. Leading academic departments are conducting trials that add controls and enroll a wide section of the population, to determine if the touted benefits of mindfulness are effective for different people.
Mindfulness has measurable effects in many of these studies. Trials show it can improve memory, help with making decisions, reduce depression, ease stress, and positively impact the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
There are many resources to learn more about mindfulness. The American Mindfulness Research Association shares information about current research and the practice of mindfulness: https://goamra.org/
U.C. Berkeley provides extensive guidance on developing a mindfulness practice at the following website: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition
As always, if you are suffering from depression or any other psychological ailments, always talk to your mental health professional or primary care provider before beginning any new therapies.
The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.
Karelaia, N., & Reb, J. (2014). Improving Decision Making through Mindfulness. INSEAD Working Papers Collection, (43), 1-37.
Kim, S. H., Schneider, S. M., Bevans, M., Kravitz, L., Mermier, C., Qualls, C., & Burge, M. R. (2013). PTSD Symptom Reduction With Mindfulness-Based Stretching and Deep Breathing Exercise: Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial of Efficacy. Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 98(7), 2984-2992. doi:10.1210/jc.2012-3742
Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness in psychology – a breath of fresh air?. Psychologist, 28(1), 28-31.