Have you ever sat down in your car and driven to your destination without remembering the trip? Perhaps you keep a pack of cookies at your desk and absentmindedly reach for them while working through your inbox—and before you know it, you’ve eaten half the pack.
Most of us have experienced similar situations and these scenarios are perfect examples of living our lives on autopilot.
When you consider the exact opposite—that is, living in the present moment—the concept may seem daunting and unattainable. Enter: the practice of mindfulness. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly mindfulness is, what the benefits are, some simple tips to get started, and how to continue practicing it.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means “paying attention.” It is the practice of being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings.
Mindfulness is an excellent way to become more conscientious of our emotional and environmental factors, instead of running on autopilot and relying on old habits and patterns of thinking and being. It allows us to become more aware of ourselves as individuals and how we show up in this world. It frees us from worrying about the future or replaying the past. It is simply living in the present moment.
Mindfulness can also be understood by what it is not. It’s not a religion, and it’s not about incense, candles, or mantras. Put simply: it’s the exact opposite of mindlessness.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
In recent decades, mindfulness has become more mainstream and is no longer buried in spiritual texts. It’s practiced by millions of people around the world and just about anyone can benefit from this powerful practice.
Here are some of the top science backed benefits of mindfulness:
- Mindfulness has been shown to reduces stress, anxiety, and depression (1)—it actually shrinks the amygdala, the center of the brain associated with fear and emotion. It has also been shown to be as effective as medication when treating depression (2).
- Mindfulness can impact your body’s inflammatory response (3). Inflammation is at the root of many chronic disease and is one of the most important markers to pay attention to when it comes to long-term health.
- Mindfulness reduces insomnia (4), increases energy, and boosts your memory and ability to focus. By helping you think more clearly, it can boost your efficiency at work and in life.
- Mindfulness has been shown to improve relationships and emotional resilience (5).
- Mindfulness improves health and boosts immunity and helps reduce the impact of chronic pain (6).
These are just some of the proven benefits of mindfulness. It can truly transform your life, and the best way to experience these positive benefits is to try it out for yourself.
How to Practice Mindfulness Daily
There are 2 main ways you can practice mindfulness.
The first is the more formal practice of meditation, which is commonly done sitting with the eyes closed but may also be done laying down or even while walking. It involves focusing on your natural breath and when your attention wanders, returning to the breath. The goal of meditation is not to clear the mind of all thoughts. It’s simply about focusing on one thing, such as the breath, and using this as our anchor to the present moment.
Try breathing in while counting to 4 and then out for another count of 4. When your mind wanders and you forget to count, just gently come back to it when you remember. Start by doing this for 2-3 minutes daily and work your way up to 10+ minutes each day. And don’t forget—your mind will wander. This practice is about recognizing when it does and consciously bringing it back to your breath.
The second way to practice mindfulness is in any other area of your life. Anything you do focused on moment-to-moment awareness can be a practice in mindfulness. Whether it’s washing the dishes with full awareness, putting away technology and giving your loved ones your full attention, eating mindfully, or driving with full awareness of your environment, any routine activity can be made into a mindfulness practice.
There is no one ‘right way’ of practicing mindfulness. As you start to embrace a daily mindfulness practice, think of it as a workout for your mind. We have to train our minds just like we train our bodies, with regular practice and dedication. If you need some more help getting started, there are some great apps out there to download—Headspace is a popular option with a free Basics course that will guide you through short formal practices.
How do you practice mindfulness (or what’s stopping you)? Let us know in the comments!
Danica is a holistic nutritionist, wellness expert and health coach on a mission to help women around the world find their optimal well-being. She is the founder of Nakd Health, where she coaches clients to prioritize wellness in their busy lives with delicious recipes, nutrition advice, fitness and lifestyle changes.