‘The practice of mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now’
Mindfulness in theory is extremely straightforward. Simply put, it’s the practice of being fully present, fully aware, and fully able to engage with one’s current situation or environment.
Why then, does it seem so elusive?
So many of us are accustomed to over-stimulation from the outside world. Even during our summer holidays, when the warm temperatures and more relaxed pace of life encourages us to let go, our attention is continually directed away from what is happening to us in the present moment.
The more time we spend in our heads thinking about things that aren’t happening right in front of us – things that have already happened or have yet to happen – the less time we spend being mindful.
Let’s learn a little more about mindfulness and the top two reasons you should cultivate mindfulness this summer.
What does it mean to be mindful?
Ever heard the phrase ‘be here now’ in relation to mindfulness and meditation?
That’s because encouraging our minds to ‘be here, right now’, is essentially what mindfulness promotes.
Think about it. If you’re constantly preoccupied with worry about something that happened in the past – keep in mind that ‘the past’ in this sense can mean anything up to several minutes ago – are you truly focusing all your attention in the here and now?
The same goes for the future. Over-anticipation of an event, day, or any time which is separate from what is happening RIGHT NOW is ultimately irrelevant to the present moment. It will not, (and cannot) affect your present situation.
Research has found that mindfulness meditation can decrease our brain’s level of distraction and over-stimulation, however, offering us a foundation upon which to combat our constantly distracted lives.
Top two reasons to cultivate mindfulness
Helps to reduce anxiety and depression
Instances of anxiety, depression, and various other forms of mental illness have been brought to the forefront of our awareness in recent years. This, and the fact that mindfulness seems to work effectively against them, is a huge reason people are expressing more and more interest in it.
So how does it help?
Mindfulness calls our attention back into the NOW, while symptoms of anxiety include preoccupation with potential future events or past occurrences. It makes sense that mindfulness works. But mindfulness is not something that can simply be achieved once and then will be available for good.
Engaging with a regular mindfulness and meditation practice is the only way to build up stamina and awareness about the onset of anxiety or other symptoms of poor mental health. The more we familiarize ourselves with our personal ‘now’, our personal state of being present, and become comfortable with it, the more accessible it becomes.
This means that our ability to rationalize a situation and draw ourselves back into balance is increased with practice, and so mindfulness simply becomes a tool we can access easily and use to our advantage. Starting your mindfulness practice during the slower, relaxed summer months can help you to build a year-round practice. This will better equip you for stressful schedules and busy days during the fall and winter months.
Read this study to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness meditation for anxiety. There are SO many other studies like this one out there!
Helps to build cognitive flexibility
Decreasing your reactivity to external events and triggers is another benefit of a regular mindfulness practice.
People who regularly meditate have been found to possess higher levels of self-awareness and self-observation. These are vital skills and tools which help us become less reactive and more mindful of ourselves.
Cognitive flexibility also refers to the ability to more effectively switch between thought concepts and ideas – that is, to multi-task! Improving our ability to multi-task allows us to process more information more effectively, and ultimately to increase our productivity.
While multi-tasking also has its drawbacks, the overall improved brain capacity required to successfully do so is where the benefits of regular meditation can be observed. Think of it as being better able to handle overreactive thoughts and irrational responses. (I’m pretty sure we all know at least one person who could benefit from this skill.)
If you develop a practice of mindfulness during your summer holidays, you are more likely to return to work, school, and other pursuits with a deeper level of focus and engagement.
Developing your mindfulness – or awareness of ‘be here, right now’ – over the summer months will help you to prepare and refresh for the typically busy fall and winter months.
Stay tuned for next week’s article, in which we will cover some ways to practice mindfulness during your holidays.