A large body of research has confirmed the benefits of mindfulness practice in treating stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.
However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to mindfulness exercise. Before you decide whether practicing mindfulness is right for you, you need to understand what mindfulness is and what you can expect from it.
What is Mindfulness
Mindfulness refers to our ability to be fully present and aware of our thoughts, senses, and emotions without judging or interpreting them. In other words, practicing mindfulness enables you to focus on your thoughts, feelings, and your body non-judgmentally.
Mindfulness is typically practiced through meditation and can involve exercises such as:
- Deep breathing
- Guided imagery
- Body scan
- Sitting meditation
- Walking meditation
- Loving-kindness meditation
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?
Regular mindfulness exercises can alleviate stress and anxiety symptoms, improve your mood, and relax your mind and body.
Studies show that mindfulness can help you become aware of your negative thinking patterns and self-judgment.
This is achieved by redirecting your focus away from negative thoughts, as mindfulness exercise helps you engage with the present moment. It can also help you experience thoughts and emotions with a greater sense of self-acceptance and self-compassion.
The evidence from many clinical trials has confirmed the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation for conditions such as:
- Attention difficulties
Mindfulness increases our awareness and consideration about everything we think and do, so many people consider it a way of living. However, here are a few things to consider before starting mindfulness.
- Is Mindfulness the Right Strategy for Your Problems?
Mindfulness is a tool that can improve your general well-being. However, like any other skill, mindfulness requires practice. If you are experiencing significant emotional distress, learning a new skill may be too stressful.
Also, suppose you struggle with a specific mental health problem. In that case, you might benefit from psychotherapy or a more intensive treatment before you start mindfulness practices.
- Is Observing Your Negative Thoughts and Feelings Too Distressing?
Many thoughts and emotions come to a conscious mind during mindfulness exercise. They can include overwhelming feelings we have been pushing away, such as fear, sadness, shame, or anger. This may cause you to feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
While getting in touch with painful emotions can be beneficial in the long run, we may not be not ready to manage these emotions at the time. Therefore, focusing on them may cause discomfort and distress, worsening how you already feel.
- Can You Manage Mindfulness on Your Own?
If you find mindfulness exercises distressing at any point, then it is best to stop with them and get advice from a qualified professional.
However, the best way to tell if mindfulness is right for you is to give it a try.
How to Practice Mindfulness
You can easily incorporate mindfulness practice into your daily routine as you can practice it while sitting, walking, or even driving.
Below are a few tips on how to practice mindfulness.
- Practice Mindful Breathing
Sit or lie comfortably and take a few moments to focus on your breathing. Although you can do this exercise standing or walking, you will feel more comfortable if you are sitting or lying.
Start breathing in slowly through your nose and let your breath fill the stomach and lungs. Then, slowly breathe out through your mouth and allow five to ten seconds for each breath cycle. Focus on your breathing (for example, where do you feel breaths in your body? What does your breathing sound like?) and try letting go of your thoughts.
- Try Not to Label Your Thoughts and Feelings
This might be challenging initially, but try not to be judgmental to the thoughts and emotions that come up. For example, instead of labeling an emotion as ‘bad,’ simply notice and observe without evaluating it.
- Focus on the Present
While practicing mindfulness, try paying attention only to what is happening around you, not allowing your mind to wander to the past or the future.
What if You Find Mindfulness Exercise Hard?
For many people, mindfulness is a familiar habit that they practice regularly. However, some people may struggle to be present and focus on the existing moment without experiencing discomfort.
If you feel that mindfulness is not for you, try some similar practices to help you relax and handle everyday challenges with more calmness and confidence.
These may include tea meditation, connecting with nature, listening to calming music, coloring, knitting, or expressing gratitude.
Every person is different – what works for your partner or best friend doesn’t have to be effective for you. So, you may want try different mindfulness strategies until you find the right one for you.