Mindfulness: What is it, and do I need it?

Many people associate the idea of mindfulness with meditation. And while this is true to a rather large extent, mindfulness is actually so much more than that. Mindfulness means focusing on the experiences of the here and now and not worrying about future implications or past problems. And while it seems like an airy and abstract concept, it is a very precise skill that has very real-world benefits. It can be quite difficult at first and it takes significant time to master.

An important part of mindfulness is observing the present moment with absolutely no judgment. It simply labels what’s happening in the moment without attaching anything more to it. The idea of mindfulness is used in many practices from meditation to cognitive behavioral therapy and education.

Mindfulness: What is it, and do I need it?

How does it work?

In order to be aware of the moment, you need to heighten your senses and focus intensely. All of your efforts need to be directed toward what is happening in the present. Some people do this by focusing on their breathing, which allows their mind to quieten down so that they are hyper-aware of the moment.

The most important part of mindfulness, after you’ve become hyper-aware is to identify your thoughts and emotions. If you are feeling angry, accept that and identify it as anger to yourself. You don’t have to worry about why you are angry, or judge yourself for feeling that way. Just be aware that you are angry. Then allow the moment to pass. Let it become the past and begin a new moment.

Why do people practice mindfulness?

Essentially the point of mindfulness is to gain control of yourself and your emotions. People use it to cope with difficult emotions like anger or grief or to cope with very stressful situations. By allowing yourself to be aware of your emotions at a particular point in time, you prevent them from running away from you or spinning out of your control.

People have found that by practicing mindfulness regularly, they are less stressed and better off emotionally. Research has even shown how it can help to reduce blood pressure and boost the immune system. It also helps to appreciate the moment for what it is and not let time pass you by. People who use mindfulness report having a greater appreciation for life.

Mindfulness: What is it, and do I need it?

Other uses of mindfulness

While mindfulness can help the everyday person reduce their stress levels, it has also been highly successful in mental health therapy. For example, mindfulness is part of the treatment of conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder or major depressive disorder. In obsessive-compulsive disorder, when the patient gets the urge to do something they are encouraged to simply identify it and be aware of the urge but not to think about future implications. Doing this highly reduces the stress associated with the obsession which may reduce the urge for them to carry it out. It works the same way with the feelings of sadness, guilt, or depression. Patients are encouraged to simply identify that feeling but detach it from future implications. Doing this allows them to break the cycle of negative emotions.

Many schools are also introducing this practice in the classrooms. Students are allowed to start the day with a mindfulness exercise and allowed to use it whenever they are feeling overwhelmed by the school work. Researchers who looked at this found that this mindfulness allowed the students to gain a better understanding of the concepts they were being taught and improve their problem-solving skills.

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