Mindfulness is, quite simply, the art of being aware of the present moment, aware of what is arising inside us and around us. Mindfulness brings us in touch with what is actually happening right now rather than getting all caught up in ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. A capacity for mindfulness can have powerful impacts on work performance leading to improved focus and memory, and better relationships with our co–workers.
Many mindfulness approaches are derived from Eastern practices such as Yoga and Buddhist meditation. With everybody from new age gurus to Yogis and Buddhist monks touting the benefits of mindfulness what does scientific research show? The evidence is good, and that is why companies like Apple, Google, Starbucks and General Mills have introduced mindfulness to their employees. Studies report wide-ranging benefits including:
- fMRI scans show that grey matter – the information processing centre of the brain – increases through regular mindfulness meditation
- Mindfulness meditators have better focus and get less distracted
- Practicing mindfulness reduces stress leading to less depression and anxiety and improving overall mental health
- Mindfulness decreases emotional reactivity and increases cognitive flexibility
- A person’s ability to be mindful is a predictor of relationship satisfaction
- Mindfulness can increase immune functioning and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke
If it is so great why aren’t we all doing it? Well perhaps that is because although the notion of being in the present moment is easy to understand the practice of being present is a little harder to achieve. Think of a moment when you noticed a truly beautiful sunset and then try to remember how long you stayed present, just experiencing it, rather than reaching for your smartphone to take a photograph or turning to your companion to talk about how amazing it is.
A moment of mindfulness happened while you were just breathing in the beauty, but once you moved to thinking or doing something about the sunset you stopped being truly present. If it is hard for us to just be in the moment even in the presence of great beauty, how much harder is it for us to be present to the ordinary stuff of life? Being mindful means being present to the boring and banal, the sad and tragic, along with the joyful and amazing.
Like most things that are worth doing it requires some knowledge about how to do it combined with a personal commitment to developing a practice. So here are a couple of first steps for you to try.
The first thing is to schedule some times in your day to STOP.
Slow down your breathing
Take note and observe what is going on inside you and around you
Open up and make space for your feelings and thoughts to emerge
Proceed in the best way given what is happening right this moment
You might be surprised by how many times the best way to proceed is just to take another breath! This is an informal mindfulness practice that takes less than a minute. Consider adding a STOP at the start and end of a meeting or task, or before you respond to or make a demand of a co-worker, particularly when a contentious issue is involved. At the very least breathing mindfully will calm your body and mind, giving you greater clarity and more energy, but you will probably find that scheduling regular minutes of mindfulness helps you make better choices throughout your day.
The second step is to set aside 10 minutes most days to do a formal mindfulness meditation. There are many forms of meditation but the simplest one to begin with is the body scan, where you observe each part of your body in turn, starting with your feet, legs, back, and working all the way up to your head. As you observe each part of your body you imagine breathing in to and out of that part of the body. A guided body scan will help you get started. Just signup to receive your free body scan from Take Care.