What Is Mindfulness?
In today’s busy world, mindfulness provides us with an easy, common sense way of coping with our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environments. It can be extremely helpful to everyone of all ages.
There is nothing particularly new about practicing mindfulness, it just makes sense. Remember the age-old expression “Stop and smell the roses“.
We rush around all day with thousands of thoughts spinning around in our heads. By slowing things down in our heads, we actually end up improving everything else in our lives. This may sound like a cliche, however all evidence points to mindfulness having a profound impact on our mood, stress levels, concentration skills, immune system and the ability to learn and so much more.
Mindfulness training and practice is being introduced in schools around the globe. The good news is that the concepts and exercises used to teach mindfulness to children are extremely simple. They involve breathing, listening, discussing feelings to name a few.
Our book series Mindfulness for Children is intended as an “awakening” for parents, educators and children.
Mindfulness is often presented in a context of helping to fix something (stress, depression etc.) but should really be thought of as something useful for all of us. Think about how exercise benefits all of us and is not thought of as merely helpful to those looking to reduce weight.
Those who practice mindfulness have noticed a difference in their lives in a matter of weeks. The skeptical who go along with the exercises are often the first to put up their hands and comment about how they feel a positive change.
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Though it has its roots in Buddhist meditation, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the American mainstream in recent years, in part through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which he launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Since that time, thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general and MBSR in particular, inspiring countless programs to adapt the MBSR model for schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and beyond.
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Here are some of these benefits, which extend across many different settings.
- Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
- Mindfulness is good for our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Indeed, at least one study suggests it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.
- Mindfulness changes our brains: Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- Mindfulness helps us focus: Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and attention skills.
- Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism: Research suggests mindfulness training makes us more likely to help someone in need and increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well.
- Mindfulness enhances relationships: Research suggests mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another.
- Mindfulness is good for parents and parents-to-be: Studies suggest it may reduce pregnancy-related anxiety, stress, and depression in expectant parents. Parents who practice mindfulness report being happier with their parenting skills and their relationship with their kids, and their kids were found to have better social skills.
- Mindfulness helps schools: There’s scientific evidence that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems and aggression among students, and improves their happiness levels and ability to pay attention. Teachers trained in mindfulness also show lower blood pressure, less negative emotion and symptoms of depression, and greater compassion and empathy.
- Mindfulness helps health care professionals: cope with stress, connect with their patients, andimprove their general quality of life. It also helps mental health professionals by reducing negative emotions and anxiety, and increasing their positive emotions and feelings of self-compassion.
- Mindfulness fights obesity: Practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, helps people lose weight, and helps them savor the food they do eat.
Read this introduction to mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Maclean’s article “Bringing mindfulness to the school curriculum”.
Article on “Mindfulness for kids” by Today’s Parent magazine.