What is Mindfulness?
The term mindfulness is often used nowadays. What is mindfulness, exactly?
Mindfulness is a way to bring awareness to the present moment through non-judgmental observation and noticing. The goal is to be fully present at this moment.
Research has shown that mindfulness-based practices reduce anxiety, insomnia, and pain. They also improve mood and emotional regulation. Research has shown that mindfulness-based methods can alter the wiring and neural circuitry of the brain.
Mindfulness can have benefits that are felt almost immediately. Study shows that mindful breathing for just five minutes can reduce feelings of distress, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood pressure in palliative cancer patients.
- Recent research has shown that mindful breathing for 20 minutes is more effective in decreasing the suffering of palliative care staff than supportive listening 2.
- It has been proven that mindfulness breathing can reduce anxiety in university students 3.
- Recent research has shown that mindfulness-based breathing can be beneficial in decreasing the acute side effects of smoking cessation and reducing smoking behavior 4.
- Anyone can practice mindfulness. All human beings are capable of practicing it. Mindfulness practices are always available for you, no matter the time needed. You will find mindfulness more quickly if you practice it regularly.
Mindfulness-based practices include mindful breathing, mindful walking, and mindful eating so Mindfulness can even be used in everyday activities like brushing teeth. The mind can quickly go into autopilot mode during routine or basic exercises. The mind can become distracted from the task and focus on other aspects of life. Mindfulness allows you to be present and experience the moment.
Mindful breathing is a popular, evidence-based method to practice mindfulness. When you need it, the breath can be an anchor. Conscious breathing positively affects vital brain areas involved in emotional regulation, such as the amygdala. 5 This simple breathing technique will help you relax. Start with small, achievable goals, such as five minutes of practice per day, and then increase the duration as you feel more comfortable.
- First, make sure you are in a comfortable place that allows you to remain awake.
- You can keep your eyes closed or open, depending on your preference.
- Next, take a few deep, slow, exhale-like breaths. Inhale through your nose until your belly expands. Then let out through the mouth.
- Relax and let your natural breathing pattern take over.
- Now focus on the breath coming through your nose and your mouth.
- You might notice the rise or fall of your belly when you in-breath and out-breath.
- You may find thoughts crossing your mind while doing this. This is normal.
- Be kind to yourself, and don’t judge yourself if you have other thoughts while trying to focus on your breathing.
- If your mind focuses on thoughts, you can gently bring your attention back to your breath. Relax in the knowledge that you can always return to your breath anytime.
- After 5 minutes, or when ready to end this practice, shift your attention from breathing to how your body or mind feels.
There are several other ways to practice mindful breathing, such as counting in-breaths/out-breaths.
These exercises can impair your ability to drive or operate heavy machinery. Before you attempt these exercises, consult your doctor if you have moderate or severe respiratory disease/difficulty.
Mindful walking is often done in a slower, goal-oriented manner.
- This is why you should walk slowly or naturally.
- Notice how your feet touch the ground.
- Notice how fresh air feels against your skin.
- Pay attention to any sounds you hear around you, like birds chirping.
- Pay attention to what you see around you.
- Pay attention to your mental state. Try to notice all thoughts and feelings that come up. These thoughts should not be interpreted as judgments or fixations.
This practice can be done for as long as you feel comfortable.
These practices are meant to be flawed. It is usual for the mind’s wanderlust to occur. It’s normal for the mind to wander. This is not a sign that you aren’t doing the practice correctly. It is essential to pay attention and bring your attention back. These practices may seem simple or boring if this is your first time doing them. Research has shown that mindfulness can have many benefits. Regular mindfulness practice can help reduce stress and improve emotional well-being. Mindfulness apps such as Mindfulness Daily and Headspace have received high ratings. However, eight weeks of consistent training is enough to reap the maximum benefits and develop a sustainable practice.
- Ng CG. Lai KT. Tan SB. Sulaiman AH. Zainal NZ. A Randomized controlled study to examine the effect of 5 minutes of mindful breathing on the perception of distress and physiological responses in palliative care cancer patients. J Palliat Med. 2016 Sep;19(9):917-24. doi 10.1089/jpm.2016.0046. Epub 2016 Apr 25.
- Tan SB, Ching HC, Chia YL, Yee A, Ng CG, Hasan MSB, et al. The Effect of Mindful Breathing for 20 Minutes on the Perception of Suffering and Changes in Bispectral Index Scores (BIS) among Palliative Care, Informal Caregivers: Randomized controlled study. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2019 Dec 19:1049909119894507. Doi: 10.1177/1049909119894507. [Epub ahead-of-print]
- Cho H, Ryu H, Noh J., Lee J. Study on the Effects of Daily Mindful Breathing Exercises on Students’ Test Anxiety. PLoS One. 2016;11(10):e0164822. Published 2016 Oct 20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164822
- Lotfalian S, Spears CA, Juliano LM. Mindfulness-based yogic breathing affects smoking habits, cravings, and affect. Psychol Addict Behav. 2020 Mar;34(2):351-359. doi 10.1037/adb0000536. Epub 2019 Nov 21.
- Doll A, Holzel BK, Mulej Bratec S, Boucard CC, Xie X, Wohlschlager AM, et al. Mindful attention to breathing regulates emotions via enhanced amygdala/prefrontal cortex connectivity. Neuroimage. 2016 Jul 1;134:305-313. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.03.041. Epub 2016 Mar 24.
- Mani M. Kavanagh DJ. Hides L. Stoyanov SSR. Review and Evaluation Mindfulness-Based iPhone Apps. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2015;3(3):e82. Published 2015 Aug 19. doi:10.2196/mhealth.4328.