You might be asking; why has Mindfulness become so popular? You might even wonder; what is mindfulness, really? You may even want to know how you can develop it, or why would you want to.
Here are four definitions of mindfulness, all of them accurate.
1. Mindfulness is awareness.
2. Mindfulness is being more present – More embodied in the moment.
3. Mindfulness is calm, alert, presence with equanimity (Equanimity is being even-minded or non-judgmental).
4. In the book Full Catastrophe Living, the author Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention on purpose in the present moment without judgment.
To help clarify what mindfulness is, it can be useful to know what it’s not. It is not absent mindedness, mindlessness, or conceptualizing – Unless the latter is intentional and you’re aware of it. An example of non-mindfulness that most of us have experienced is driving down the freeway and suddenly realizing we haven’t noticed anything that we have passed in the last ten minutes. We were caught up in our head; someplace other than where we were.
If we were being mindful in this example we would have noticed the scenery as it went by. This is an example of mindfulness of sight, or seeing what’s there in the present moment without getting caught up in thought.
You can be mindful of many things including your body, anything perceived by your senses, and even your feelings and thoughts (when not carried away by them). For example, in the time you’ve been reading this article, have you had any sensory awareness of your body? Have you noticed feeling any pain, temperature, or pressure such as the chair against your back? If you had some awareness of any physical sensations, then you’ve had some mindfulness of the body. Regardless of whether you experienced any of these things before I mentioned them, there’s a good chance you noticed some of them as I pointed them out. At that moment you were mindful.
Take a moment right now and check in with your body; feel the pressure of the floor against your feet, and also the pressure of the chair against your back, if you are seated. Notice your eyes taking in these words, and observe your thinking as you read. There. That’s mindfulness of your body, seeing, and thoughts.
It’s now probably obvious to you that you have some mindfulness some of the time, but maybe you have it less often than would be beneficial to your greater wellbeing. In the busy modern world we are often caught up in our heads un-mindfully. One big reason that practicing being mindful, especially of the body, more of the time is that your nervous system calms down and you feel good – You have a felt-sense of greater wellbeing. Your body enjoys your mindful awareness.
You are probably seeing how practicing mindfulness can counter stress and anxiety. When we are anxious our nervous system is highly activated; we’re hyper-aroused. If we are mostly disconnected from the direct experience of our body we feel nervous, jittery, and frazzled, and we have a difficult time concentrating. We may even be numb to how our body feels. This is not uncommon. When we are stressed we may not even notice that our breathing is more shallow and rapid. We may go through most of the day in this state, and by the end of the day our nervous system flips from a frenetic-state to a state of severe exhaustion and fatigue.
On the other hand when we are connected to our body it is soothing to the nervous system and we are less likely to become hyper-aroused. When we do experience stress, if we’re mindful of how we’re feeling, we can choose to be present in the body and take a few deeper breaths. This regulates the nervous system to a state of greater calm and we experience wellbeing and greater resilience to additional stressors. By practicing mindfulness of the body in this way we can learn to consciously regulate our nervous system and over time we can settle into a pattern of alertness (high state) and relaxation / recuperation (low state). This is compared to the un-mindful states of high-anxiety and extreme fatigue.
You can now see more clearly the reasoning behind definition number three above. Mindfulness is Calm, Alert, Presence, with Equanimity. Calm and alert can seem contradictory until they are seen in this way – that of a well-regulated nervous system. An easy way to remember this definition is with the acronym C-A-P-E which uses the first letter of each of the key words; Calm, Alert, Presence, and Equanimity. In a sense this state of heightened mindfulness is a type of super-power; an inner one that positively impacts all areas of our life.
This is one example of mindfulness; that of the body, which you now see can increase our sense of wellbeing and over time our resilience to the stressors of modern life. Other benefits include acting with greater self-awareness, and non-reactivity.
You may be wondering; how does one go about increasing mindfulness? We do it by practicing. Now; how to practice? There’s formal meditation which is great, but it is not for everyone in the beginning. Another excellent way to get started is informal practice throughout the day.
To begin informal mindfulness practice, choose something as a trigger; as a reminder to practice. Using transitions works well for most people. Transitions are times you make changes throughout your day, such as going through doors, or switching tasks. Use these as a trigger or reminder to take a moment and notice what your body is sensing. For example, you walk out the door of your house; take a second and notice the temperature change on your skin, the brightness on your eyes, the smells – run through all your senses if you like. Practice this way consistently for a week or so and you’ll begin to be more in touch with your body, which will calm your nervous system, which feels great. Keep doing this and you will experience ever greater depths to being present in your body.
You will likely go through ten or more transitions every day that can be used as reminders to be more present. You can begin by setting the intention to use these as triggers to practice mindfulness ten times each day. Congratulations, you now have a mindfulness practice.
There are many reasons why this and related practices, like yoga are becoming popular. A big reason that mindfulness is so popular is that it’s greatly needed. As life gets more stressful for more people we are seeking natural ways to counter stress and enhance our wellbeing. By starting your practice you become a part of this really good revolution. Give it a try. All you have to lose is your stress!
Brad Maybury teaches mindfulness practices, helping clients connect more deeply with their body and gain greater calm, vitality, and wellness! Those with symptoms of anxiety, stress and trauma go from surviving to thriving.
Visit his site to learn more: http://www.traumarecoveryresources.com/newsletter