Proven Health And Lifestyle Benefits Of Mindfulness
Donald Altman—award-winning author, psychotherapist, and former Buddhist monk—probably best expressed the core principle of mindfulness with this quote from his definitive book, The Mindfulness Code: Keys for Overcoming Stress, Anxiety, Fear, and Unhappiness: "If you truly want to change your life, you must first be willing to change your mind." But really, what is mindfulness and what are the benefits of mindfulness? Zen master, Buddhist teacher, and peace activist defines it as an experience that “shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.”
The Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles gives us a more basic definition: "Mindful awareness is the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one's physical, mental, and emotional experiences." Through all of the varying definitions of mindfulness, certain core aspects remain constant: it is a state of complete attention to the present, truly ‘living in the moment’—without anticipation of, or worrying about, the future and without dwelling on, or being trapped in, the past. This allows you to not only observe your mental processes but also truly take a step back and perceive your emotional state, as well as also bring your physical self to some measure of equilibrium. For some, this process may feel daunting to begin by themselves, but incorporating a licensed online therapist may be beneficial to discuss—and implement—effective mindfulness techniques, all from the comfort of one’s home.
Mindfulness Is The Key To A Healthier Life
When the topic of health is brought up, typically the first thing that people think about is their physical health. This is understandable since it is what we can readily see—it is tangible. We often think of our bodies as strong, weak, sometimes breakable, sometimes mendable. However, tangibility aside, these facets can all apply to other aspects of our overall health—mental and emotional—as well. Throughout our lifetime, we can be emotionally strong one day and emotionally weak another, we can have a mental breakdown this year and mental rehabilitation the next.
Throughout all of these aspects of health—from mind to body to emotions—the benefits of mindfulness are ever-present.
To properly learn about mindfulness, it is important to introduce mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)—an actual mental health program that does exactly what its name suggests. Utilizing mindfulness as a means of combating stress and life issues can be difficult to treat in a conventional hospital setting, MBSR has its roots in centuries-old teachings and was formally developed in the 1970s at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, once a student of Thich Nhất Hanh. One study noted the benefits of online MBSR accessibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it “[allowed participants to avoid] direct personal contact, [reached] out to remote places, [offered] accessibility [to] frail and physically disabled persons, availability to a larger population, and delivery at a minimal cost.” These benefits apply to the world of online therapy as well.
The Most Common Benefits Of Mindfulness
These are everyday benefits of mindfulness that one can take advantage of; they are backed by science and frequently have been shown to be effective.
Mindfulness Can Help To Reduce Stress
Out of all of the benefits of mindfulness, stress reduction often receives the most praise. Stress can be an ever-present battle, so being able to feel and see the results in your life almost right away may be motivating.
MBSR and other associated studies have given concrete evidence that everyone can benefit from consistent mindfulness practices—from police officers to healthcare professionals, or from parents to veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Even after just a few sessions of mindfulness-based stress reduction, individuals who had up to that time exhibited the previously mentioned symptoms of stress were now reporting feelings of:
Increased focus and attentiveness
Lowered levels of anxiety
Higher levels of perceptiveness
Increased clarity in thought processes
Overall feelings of calm
Mindfulness Can Actually Make You Smarter
Religions from all corners of the world have made use of mindfulness for hundreds of years. From the spiritual meditative techniques of Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, to the prayer-focused meditative techniques of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the core facets of mindfulness are permeated throughout all of these practices. Throughout history, each religion has used different terminology to explain the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Buddhists have described it as a means of achieving enlightenment; Hindus have attributed mindfulness as one of the key ways to opening the mind's eye, and Christians have stated that meditation through prayer brings about inner peace and a closer relationship with God.
Whatever personal religious belief you may have, science has found a way to support the basis of all of these claims. Research has shown strong evidence of meditative experiences being associated with increased cortical thickness; especially in brain regions associated with attention, interoception (the perception of sensations inside the body), and sensory processing. What does cortical thickness refer to? Individuals with increased cortical thickness are quite thick-brained, and studies have shown that this is associated with greater attentiveness, sensory processing abilities, and “self-awareness to more successfully navigate through potentially stressful encounters that arise throughout the day.”
Mindfulness Helps You To Get Things Done
This may seem counterintuitive to some degree since mindfulness, and the practices that surround it, often promote core beliefs like 'thinking about not thinking.' However, if one sits down and practices mindfulness for themselves, they may realize that the idea is not as farfetched as it sounds.
It has been noted how the benefits of mindfulness can assist one in aspects of their life, such as helping to deal with stress from a job or within a difficult family dynamic. In addition to this, it has been proven that mindfulness promotes a greater attention span and being more focused on your everyday life.
In this digital age, where information and distractions are both just a button press away, being truly focused and attentive to the task at hand is an invaluable life skill to have. Mindfulness teaches focus and discipline over both mind and body, allowing for greater strength and fortitude to see distractions and easily leave them for when the task at hand is dealt with.
Mindfulness Strengthens The Body
When it comes to strengthening their bodies, many people may focus on jogging, eating right, going on a diet, or regular visits to the gym. These are undeniably all great ways to take care of your body, strengthen it, and ultimately live a healthy life; however, it is important not to overlook mindfulness as a tool.
Some easily measurable benefits of mindfulness that are reported include:
Lowered heart rate
Higher levels of brain functioning
Reduction in psychological distress
Increased immune function
Research has also shown that mindfulness, in conjunction with other practices like yoga, can help to facilitate recovery in breast cancer survivors.
Takeaway—Now Is A Great Time To Begin Your Journey With Mindfulness
You are never too young or too old to take advantage of the benefits of mindfulness. From kids and teenagers to parents and the elderly, the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of mindfulness can always be felt. However, like many other things in life that may improve your health (such as a fitness regimen or maintaining a proper diet) having a beneficial relationship with mindfulness may seem extremely intimidating. When it comes to people who simply do not have that much free time on their hands to learn something on their own, this is where making the decision to ask for professional help comes in. A licensed mental health therapist can give you the initial support that you need. They can also assist you by pointing you in the direction of relevant, up-to-date sources to deepen your learning while encouraging on your mindfulness journey.
- Previous Article