Mindfulness: What Does it Actually Mean to Live Mindfully?

So... most likely you’ve come across the term mindfulness. With the rise in awareness for mental health and self-care, it’s a term that has been circulating frequently and something we are told we should practice often, but what does it actually mean?

Mindfulness is the practice of directing our focus and becoming intentionally aware of the present moment non-judgmentally and completely, rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. It generally involves a heightened awareness of sensory stimuli (noticing your breathing, feeling the sensations of your body, etc.) and being "in the now." Mindfulness means paying full attention to something. It means slowing down to really notice what you're doing. Being mindful is the opposite of rushing or multitasking. When you're mindful, you're taking your time. You're focusing in a relaxed, easy way.

Let’s use the example of eating. When we are purposefully aware of eating, we are consciously being aware of the process of eating. We’re deliberately noticing the sensations and our responses to those sensations. We’re noticing the mind wandering, and when it does wander we purposefully bring our attention back.

When we’re not eating mindfully, we may in theory be aware of what we’re doing, but we’re probably thinking about a hundred and one other things at the same time, and we may also be watching TV, talking, or scrolling on Instagram — or even all three! So a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may be only barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions.

Because we’re only dimly aware of our thoughts, they wander in an unrestricted way. There’s no conscious attempt to bring our attention back to our eating. There’s no purposefulness.

This purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that’s the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind to focus on the present.  

Being mindful can help with:

  • Reducing worry, anxiety or stress
  • Creating a sense of calm and relaxation
  • Improving tolerance and emotion regulation
  • Improving concentration and attention
  • Increasing productivity Increasing empathy and compassion for selves and others
  • Improving sleep

Okay so we know what mindfulness means... but how do we practice it?

Anyone can practice mindfulness. Just like the example with eating, it involves focusing on one behaviour or task in the present moment and tuning in to all of the senses involved. So today, no matter what you’re doing, how busy or quiet your day looks, take a moment to bring your attention to your breath, the physical sensations in your body, tuning in to all of your senses – what you can feel around you, what you can see, what you can hear, what you can smell or even taste. Try describing them in your mind. Notice how you feel after – do you feel more relaxed or calm?  

There are lots of ways we can practice mindfulness including grounding techniques, meditation, or yoga. Learning to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life is not always easy, however learning to slow down and live in the moment can have long-lasting impacts on our overall wellbeing.

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