What is mindfulness and why should I practice it?

When someone says the word “mindfulness,” it might come with images of people with their eyes closed and meditating in a lotus pose. It might also come with the distant sound of humming or the gentle drone of a meditation bowl. This isn’t to say that this image of mindfulness is the only one we should have, though it also isn’t to say that this image is wrong. Mindfulness is about attending to the present moment or experience without being over reactive or overwhelmed by it. Where anxious thoughts might have us worrying about the future or depressive thoughts have us drifting in the past, mindfulness brings us to the present to help us be aware of what’s around us and what we are doing.

When you think about it, most of us are living in the past or future. We are in a society that values our productivity which usually requires a lot of planning ahead and analysis of past mistakes. It makes us eat while we work, play scroll on our phones while we lay in bed, or run through our mental to-do lists while we walk the furry friends. And in those spaces, how often do we pause and think about our current experience? How often do we think about the flavors and textures of the food we are eating? How often do we run our hands and feel, really feel the blankets beneath our fingertips? How often do we look around at the scenery and really see what’s around us? You aren’t doing any of these things wrong, but you could be doing them mindfully.

Mindfulness, unlike our usual state of mindlessness, requires us to tune in to our present experiences. It is the act of examining the here-and-now, to be as conscious with what is currently happening in the moment rather than letting our thoughts flutter away in the past or future. Like a new muscle, it can be challenging to engage in mindfulness when you first start off, and that’s okay.

To help dip your toes into the concept of mindfulness, here are seven principles to know when you practice it:

  1. Non-judgment. When we feel an emotion or sensation, we often place value on it, and thus a judgment. Mindfulness is a compassionate activity where we simply acknowledge them as neither good nor bad. This can turn meta very quickly, because it’s also important not to judge the fact that you are judging! Simply acknowledge that all of these things, whether they are emotions, sensations, or thoughts, are occurring. This is a huge step in having a heightened awareness.

  2. Patience. Remember that mindfulness is a self-compassionate exercise. And with any exercise, it takes time and effort to achieve a new level. Give yourself permission to allow the events around you to unfold. You are capable of sitting with the present moment and observing. Notice when you want to rush ahead to the next moment and ease into the soothing space of knowing that there is no rush. Things will come as they do.

  1. Beginner’s mind. Our brains are wired to anticipate what might be coming next. It has helped us survive in many spaces, but it might also train us to ignore the fresh perspectives. This principle calls us to remember to look up on something or experience something as though you never have until that moment. Examine your experience with openness. Life is ever-changing, and while we may like to think that we know every aspect of what we are experiencing or feeling, mindfulness can teach us that there is a unique opportunity in every moment. Don’t let your experiences be filtered by what you already know.

  2. Trust. It is okay to trust yourself and your emotions. This can tie into the non-judgment piece, especially if you have been told messages about how you aren’t supposed to trust yourself or that emotions can cause xyz to happen. Trusting yourself will help you see things clearly for how you perceive them to be. The choices you make will be based on what you think and believe, and it is okay to trust yourself in knowing that you are able to make these choices.

  3. Non-striving. Striving to be “different” or “better” can be distracting. In our society, we spend endless amounts of time wanting to get more numbers, more recognition, more achievements, more anything. We will try to change the way things are, or even who we are, in order to enhance our growth. What mindfulness encourages is to embrace who you are as you are. Notice the thoughts that come up with this idea and do your best not to look upon them with judgment. Who you are is enough. You are enough.

  4. Acceptance. In the case of mindfulness, this means accepting things as they are in the moment. You may be feeling a certain emotion, and rather than actively trying to change it or dismiss it, accept that it is occurring. Remember, though, that accepting doesn’t have to mean that you like what is happening, just that you know that it is. Be open and willing to acknowledge what you are experiencing in the present moment.

  5. Letting go. When we sit in the present moment, we’re able to see patterns and reflexes we normally turn to when we’re feeling or thinking certain things. When we’re happy, we try to prolong it. When we’re sad or angry, we try to push it away. The reflex of prolonging it and the reflex of pushing it away are repeated in an endless cycle. Rather than engaging in these reflexes, mindfulness encourages you to observe it and then let it go. Notice it and let it be.

Upon first glance at this list, it could feel like you have to sit down on a rug, close your eyes, and meditate in a traditional sense. While that’s one way you could be mindful, there are other ways that you might not have heard of before! One of those ways is mindful eating, where you focus on the experience of the food you consume while you eat and feel all of your body and mind sensations! Another is mindful walking, where you observe all of the thoughts, emotions, and sensations of a stroll. And if you are wanting one that requires less physical movement, you can also do a body scan which can be done at your convenience! There are plenty of YouTube videos that can also guide you through different mindful techniques like one about progressive muscle relaxation or this one about mindful breathing. If you’re looking for something on-the-go, here are 5 free mindfulness phone apps that you can download!

Mindfulness has been known to reduce stress levels down to a neurological level, where areas of the brain that are associated with stress and anxiety change with regular mindful practice. It has been known to benefit those with depression, anxiety, and other medical conditions like cancer! Also, those who practice mindfulness are more likely to react to distressing stimuli in a more calm manner. And in these unprecedented times of a global pandemic, we are still seeing these benefits.

Our hope is that you are able to embrace mindfulness as another tool in your pocket to help you navigate your world. And if you are in need of a bit of extra support, know that Cultured Space is here for you to walk alongside your mindful healing journey. Our telehealth services make us a more accessible resource for you that you can access whenever you feel ready to take that next step toward success, growth, healing, and more. In the meantime, as you look upon your options, try out the new exercises for your mindfulness muscle to strengthen and let us know how it goes!