Mindfulness: What it is and how it helps
- Published: Monday, March 9, 2015
- Reviewed Date: Thursday, June 21, 2018
Recent research provides strong evidence that practicing nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness changes the brain. This practice is called mindfulness.
Mindfulness simply means paying attention to or being aware of the present moment, on purpose, in a nonjudgmental way.
In 2014, scientists from the University of British Columbia and the Chemnitz University of Technology pooled data from more than 20 studies and determined that at least eight different areas of the brain were consistently affected. In another study, participants who meditated for 15 minutes a day over eight weeks had brain scans that revealed changes in the gray matter of the brain. They found that meditation — one key way to practice mindfulness — changes the brain.
More specifically, it has been shown that mindfulness can improve a child’s math scores, assist in self-regulation, direct attention and behavior and decrease inappropriate knee-jerk responses. Mindfulness can help us get out of our automatic response mode.
For example, people with chronic pain know how much the pain can interfere with daily living and cause depression. Mindfulness is the practice of noticing the sensation of pain, but not attaching negative thoughts and emotions to it (as this is likely to make the pain worse); noticing the sensation as a sensation and nothing more. People may be amazed by how this helps lessen the intensity and duration of the pain. However, it takes a lot of practice to fully understand what mindfulness is and to be able to embrace it.
Here are nine ways to incorporate mindfulness into your busy life:
- Forgive and forget. Save mental energy by forgiving those who slight you, forgetting who said what about whom and moving on to more important things.
- Sleep more. Sleep is the best meditation. Good, consistent sleep is restorative, and critical for our physical, mental and emotional health.
- Breathe before you blast. Try not to shoot off acrimonious emails or phone calls when you are angry.
- Stop judging. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn. Assess mistakes from a neutral frame of mind and do not harp on past mistakes.
- Do what you want. Make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing and only spend time and energy on things that are most important to you. If you feel like something you’re doing is a waste of time, stop doing it and try something new.
- Start the morning with quiet time. Enjoy the sunrise, eat breakfast slowly, read the paper, go for a morning run. Do an activity that calms the mind.
- Respect your enemies. Learn from their strengths and be more objective about your own weaknesses. You may soon find that you have fewer enemies.
- Celebrate milestones and anniversaries. But be careful not to focus only on the successes and celebrations because you can become too accustomed to them. Everyone has to work through the tough times that lead to success.
- Enjoy the trip. Life is too short and most people will spend most of their time working. Work or retirement can either be depressing, or a great ride. It’s up to you. The more you enjoy work, volunteerism or retirement, the better you will be at it.
To be present in the moment, we have to learn how to stop the “monkey mind” or thoughts jumping from one thing to the next. People can learn to start living more in the now and get more out of life by being more mindful.
MU Extension offers the Taking Care of You program, which emphasizes mindfulness. Find a class near you!