“Life is a dance. Mindfulness is witnessing that dance.” ~ Amit Ray
We live in an era where it’s critical to be self-aware, empathetic, and tuned into the emotions of both ourselves and those around us. While this has always been an important part of life, the sheer quantity of distractions in the digital era can complicate the issue.
The simple act of being aware, of practicing mindfulness has a host of different benefits and side effects that trickle down into our daily lives, enhancing our minds, physical bodies, emotions, and attitudes.
What Does Practicing Mindfulness Actually Mean?
The term “mindfulness” is often brought up in a variety of contexts that can make it difficult to pin down just what the word actually means. It’s key to managing anxiety, and the term can be defined as “ an awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, and environment.”
The truly mindful person isn’t interested in figuring out the “right way” to feel as much as simply understanding how they feel in the first place. Feelings are valid in and of themselves. The feeling of anger, for instance, is typically a secondary emotion that stems from a deeper concern like fear or anxiety. Bottling it up hardly makes it go away. Acting out on it isn’t healthy either. Trying to understand it, though, can provide a path to a healthy solution.
When you take a purposeful approach to mindfulness, you are attempting to experience and understand your thoughts, emotions, and environment rather than stuff or control them. This allows you to make a thoughtful decision about what to do next.
Needless to say, the side effects of this approach are nothing short of profound.
The Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness to Your Physical Health
There are many physical effects of mindfulness. For instance, being mentally aware can help you cope with chronic pain or improve your sleep. It has also been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety levels — all of which can have a dramatic effect on physical health.
In addition, practicing mindfulness and meditation on a daily basis can increase your brain’s ability to learn. One study, for instance, showed that subjects who spent 27 minutes a day practicing mindful meditation had increased grey matter density in their hippocampus, which directly translates into an improved ability to learn and memorize information.
Improvements to Your Mental Well-Being
While the physical effects of mindfulness are impressive, the influence it can have on your cognitive abilities is arguably even greater.
As educational consultant Gina Belli says, the simple act of finding time for meditating and practicing mindfulness is naturally beneficial “as allowing for mindfulness can help you achieve better focus and great purpose later on.” In other words, giving yourself time to mentally rest can increase your focus and drive. Doing so also helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression levels, which can have a powerful impact on how you think and cope with the often incessant pressures of daily life.
Practicing mindfulness also allows you to observe your thoughts rather than obsess with or straight-up avoid them as is too often the case.
Understanding how and why we think in certain ways is a powerful tool and one that has found tremendous success in areas like cognitive behavioral therapy. Taking the time to thoughtfully consider things like cognitive distortions can radically influence the way we perceive the world around us.
Finally, being mindful can simply help you gain a better overall perspective of life itself. Being aware of yourselves, others, and your environment can encourage you to turn off your screens, occasionally separate yourself from constant information overload, and simply find the time to just be.
In short, the act of being aware often leads to an overtly grateful attitude towards life and a desire to weed out unhealthy distractions.
As is so often the case, being aware of the benefits doesn’t automatically mean you can partake in them. Being mindful can take a great deal of focus and commitment. This isn’t because it’s difficult to actually be mindful, but because it’s difficult to break our own habitual thought processes.
But you don’t need to sell everything you own and move to a monastery in Tibet in order to begin to feel the effects of a thoughtful life. If you find that you’re struggling to maintain a mindful attitude, consider ways to start implementing smaller baby steps towards that goal.
You can start, for instance, by simply looking for time in your daily routine to meditate and focus on your mindset, even if it’s just five minutes a day.
However you choose to go about it, it’s important to remember that it’s worth the investment. It’s easy to lose sight of what truly matters in our busy modern lives.
However, a genuine effort to find mindfulness is an excellent first step on the road to a true appreciation of the act of living life itself.