Have you ever tried practicing mindfulness?
I hope you’ve read the posts on the blog about my deep, deep love for mindfulness. But if you haven’t you can check them out here.
And if you’ve read them and still haven’t committed to a mindfulness practice… I want to share with you some of the most amazing benefits that we get when we commit to practicing such a powerful and life-changing self-care activity on a daily basis.
Let me back up for just a second…
You might be wondering what mindfulness is and why I’m going on about it…
Mindfulness is the practice of living life on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment and with compassion.
Mindfulness is building the habit of awareness, and committing to a life of focus. It is minimalism of the mind.
It's the process that allowed me to take the pressure off of myself when doing ANY ACTIVITY. Its the activity that has helped me learn to live in the now. Which doesn’t mean that I avoid planning or preparing for the future - it simply means that I plan and prepare in a way that fits who I am in the moment. I plan and prepare in a compassionate way that frees up mental and emotional space because I no longer allow worry or stress to validate or control my experiences.
Starting a blog, making huge life decisions, interacting with friends and family, taking a night off, and even just going out to dinner have all gotten so much brighter, easier, and happier because of my commitment to living mindfully.
I used to be so anxious, so in my head, so wrapped up in worries and pros and cons that I couldn’t fully enjoy ANYTHING (at one point... not even journaling!). I used to tell my mom that even doing fun things had become stressful and irritating. I couldn’t even go out to eat with my best friends without being tense… because I hadn’t learned how to accept the present moment as it was. I was constantly judging, constantly predicting what other people would think, constantly trying to prepare to avoid all of the negative things that might come up… and all of that mental overdrive ruined my ability to enjoy my life.
Mindfulness was like flipping a switch for me. It turned the lights on. It taught me to be compassionately aware of the NOW in a way that wasn’t overwhelming. It taught me how to have fun. It taught me how to find peace.
I’d been a dabbling meditator for years, but when approaching meditation from a mindfulness perspective I really began to LIVE the benefits of meditation that I’d heard so many others talking about.
And although mindfulness meditation is a personal practice that varies greatly for everyone depending on socioeconomic and cultural contexts, there are some common threads that run through the benefits people receive from practicing.
So what might the benefits of mindfulness meditation look like?
1. The practice enhances your immune system.
What we think and what we feel emotionally can wreak havoc on or vastly improve our health. And so when mindfulness meditation becomes a part of your daily routine, we begin to pay attention to how our mind functions and what thoughts we tend to focus on, we can see if we’re serving our wellbeing or harming it. So the scientific theory here is that when we make an effort to treat ourselves with compassion and practice mindfulness, the thoughts that tend to damage our health and our immune system can decrease.
1. Mindfulness meditation improves your ability to focus and function under stress.
Mindfulness will not remove every stressful situation or experience from your life, but it will help you find the patience and presence to deal with stressful events in a manner that does not harm your mind and soul. Things that were once overwhelming become simple because of your ability to bring your attention back to the present moment quickly and efficiently.
2. It helps you see the danger in multitasking and create a more effective system for getting things done.
Some might think that mindfulness encourages laziness and a lack of engagement… but in fact it does the opposite. Mindfulness is not simply sitting with your eyes closed and dozing off to sleep… It’s a process that you take with you out of your meditative sitting… it’s a process that creates a lens of awareness and deliberate attentiveness through which you see the entire world. And when you are committed to seeing the world with awareness, multitasking begins to feel like a process that takes away from your ability to live fully. It splits up your focus and fractures your ability to fully experience an activity or event.
So when we dedicate fifteen minutes to one activity instead of splitting up those fifteen minutes among three different things to do… your fifteen minutes actually seems like much more. You’re completely focused. You get into flow… into a zone where nothing else takes away from what’s in front of you.
Think about it this way… if you were doing something you REALLY wanted to do… going to a restaurant you’ve always wanted to go to… or writing the last page of your novel… or getting married - right at the moment you’re saying “I do,” you wouldn’t want to also be working on your latest assignment from work, talking to your best friend on the phone, and doing your 100 squats for the day… right? This practice asks you to treat every moment like it was just as important as the moment you get married or the time you spend writing that last page or when you're finally eating at that amazing restaurant. Savor every second of your existence… and you’ll actually be more productive. (And probably at least a little happier).
3. It helps you implement tools and attitudes that can improve your relationships with yourself and others.
Can you imagine what would happen in your relationships if you couldn’t help but to treat every person like they were the most important person in the room? Giving them all of your attention when you’re speaking with them, eye contact, compassion, and kindness?
Could you imagine doing those things without judging and constantly attacking yourself or other people for reacting in a way you didn't expect or didn't approve of?
Can you imagine what it would feel like to love yourself so much that you allow yourself to live freely - making mistakes and accomplishing amazing things all without relying on those events to sustain your own love and support?
Doing this doesn’t mean that you simply accept any type of poor behavior from yourself and other people… it just means that when you encounter the poor behavior, you’re not going to ruminate on how horrible it was. You won’t get sucked into the trap of labels and overthinking. You react the best way you know how and then you move on, living from moment to moment, practicing empathy and compassion and challenging yourself to see things from an open-hearted perspective.
1. Practicing mindfulness helps to treat symptoms of PMS.
Studies show that women who practice mindfulness meditation regularly reported having less problems with PMS. Understanding the connection between your cycle and the way your mind works can help you take actions that will lessen your symptoms. Cultivating a lifestyle of awareness will help you pay more attention to the rhythms and habits of your body, giving you a head start on solving your PMS issues for good.
2. It helps you get a good, complete, rejuvenating sleep.
I’m sure we’ve all been there - when you know you’re supposed to be asleep but you can't actually get that all too important shut-eye because your mind just won’t be quiet. Sometimes we get to the point where we can’t sleep and we don’t even know why… we’re simply overstimulated and way too worked up to drift off. Practicing mindfulness, especially in a nightly routine when you calm your state of mind right before bed, can help you get the restful sleep you need.
Mindfulness can also help you simply appreciate the way your mind works even if it’s running wild with thoughts at an inappropriate time. Instead of beating our minds up for doing the “wrong” thing at the "wrong" time, mindfulness teaches us to acknowledge the thought as it shows up, and bring our attention right back to the desired place without despair or frustration - in this case, to the coziness of our pillow!
1. Mindfulness meditation helps you develop clear thinking while helping you minimize obsessive rumination.
When practicing mindfulness, we observe the patterns of our thoughts, and as they stray from our intended focus, we simply notice that we have strayed, and return to our original intention. Doing this over and over eventually lessens our tendency to stray simply because we become aware of our tendency to do so. The more often we practice, the less we ruminate and obsesses (especially over detrimental issues) in our lives. And when we are no longer obsessing over detrimental issues, our ability to think clearly and develop an intense focus on the present moment becomes possible.
2. It helps to strengthen your memory.
It’s no exaggeration to say that when we're under immense stress our memory can take a nose dive. Once, when I was in one of the most intense and all-encompassing moments of stress in my life, I completely forgot my debit card’s PIN number. I was trying to put gas in my car and had no idea what my PIN was… It was as if the number had been erased from my memory… as if it had never even existed to begin with. That was scary. That was the moment I knew I needed to really take my stress levels seriously, (because it could cause some serious damage if I continued going down that road). I knew I needed to figure out how get back into a positive flow with life.
So when I was reading more about mindfulness meditation and its ability to strengthen your memory, it immediately made complete sense to me. When we are practicing mindfulness, we’re exercising our ability to think, to practice metacognition, and to consciously control our focus. Those are areas of our brains that we don’t typically use on a day to day basis without a mindfulness practice. So when we put effort into developing these skills, our ability to focus, our ability to return to the present moment in any situation, our ability to lessen the pressure we put on our minds from too much stress… it only makes sense that our memory improves. We're working the muscle. We're practicing. And with practice, our abilities always improve.
1. Mindfulness meditation can decrease the size of the amygdala - the brain’s fight or flight center that tells our body to speed up our heart rate, suppress our immune system, and produce stress hormones like cortisol - and it thickens the pre-frontal cortex - associated with driving the functionality of focus, awareness, and decision making skills.
This scientific data shows what I’ve personally found to be true about my own mindfulness practice - that I’m less inclined to make rash, emotion-fueled decisions than I used to be… and that I have developed a deeper understanding of WHY I feel a particular way in a particular moment. Those abilities alone have worked miracles on my stress levels… and there are many scientific studies that show what’s going on in your brain that causes these results. There is evidence to show that mindfulness directly helps our mind disconnect from the area that makes us feel so overwhelmed and stressed.
My personal favorite benefit of mindfulness:
1. This practice brought acceptance and surrender into my life.
The beauty of mindfulness for me is that it truly supports a peaceful way of life in the good times and the challenging ones. Mindfulness isn’t something that you practice when things get tough and then abandon on the days when things are going well. Mindfulness helps you understand ever single moment of your life for what it is.
It’s like adding truffle oil to your pasta… it just makes it all taste SO much better! Even a mediocre pasta can be transformed with truffle oil! Mindfulness meditation is my spiritual truffle oil.
It has helped me understand that not everything I think has to be true… and it has helped me be able to experience ever second of my life fully without falling into a spiral of guilt or anger. All of that from a couple of minutes of practicing daily? Yeah I might not believe it either if I hadn’t experienced it for myself.
Want to develop a mindfulness meditation practice for yourself but don’t know where to begin?
Want to start up (or get back into) your mindfulness meditation practice but don’t think you can keep up the habit without accountability?
Want to learn more about mindfulness and how it can help you find peace in the present moment?
Interested in living a mindful life where you can be completely present in each and every moment?
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