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Benefits of Mindfulness                                                       

by Helen Selenati

What is Mindfulness ?

Learning to focus the mind can be a helpful and healthy way to manage the daily stresses of our busy lives. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to what you are experiencing from moment to moment – without being pre-occupied with thoughts about the past, concerns about the future, or getting caught up in opinions about what is going on in the present.

Mindfulness is not a new idea.  It has been part of religious texts for centuries, poets and writers have sung its praises, and it has been central to many contemplative traditions such as Buddhism. Scientific research has shown growing evidence that cultivating mindfulness can increase our enjoyment of life, expand our capacity to cope with illness, and improve our physical and emotional health.  It is a powerful tool in reducing the stress and anxiety that occurs with chronic illness and as an adjunct to modern medicine it may enhance other treatments.

How to Practice Mindfulness

One form of mindfulness practice is a discipline called mindfulness meditation, which involves sitting quietly for 20 or 30 minutes, once or twice a day. Begin by focusing on the breath while allowing the mind and body to let go of thoughts and sensations. Pay attention to the movement of air passing through the nostrils with each inhalation, as it fills the chest, and once again notice the sensations of the breath as it leaves the body on exhalation.  Don’t breathe intentionally, but allow each breath to rise and fall away on its own, noticing the pauses between each inhalation and exhalation.

Inevitably thoughts, sensations and emotions will arise in the mind and body that will pull the attention away from the breath. The idea is to observe these “intrusions” without analyzing or suppressing them.  Just noticing whatever it is that arises and allowing it to pass before returning your attention to the breath.  It may be useful to name the intruder as either “thinking”, “worrying”, “body sensation”, “feeling sad” etc. and then let it go. 

How You Can Benefit

Observing the mind in this way, from a distance, can help you gain perspective and insight. Meditation can be a tool for understanding yourself better. You can become aware of where your mind tends to go during the day and to recognize thinking patterns that may be creating problems for you. In a less structured way, being mindful in everything we do, brings a similar focused, non-judgmental awareness to our daily tasks.  A meditation practice can enhance everyday mindfulness and can improve your ability to focus on the present moment throughout the day.

Integrating Mindfulness into Everyday Life.

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Being mindful means focusing attention on what you’re experiencing from moment to moment. This can be a daunting task in a hectic world but research has established that it is a worthwhile habit to cultivate.  As you go about your daily activities, do one thing at a time and bring your full awareness to both the activity and your experience of it. Here are some tips for integrating mindfulness:

-         Pay attention to your breathing or your environment when you stop at red lights.

-         If the present moment involves stress, observe your thoughts and emotions and how they affect your body.

-         Find a task that you usually do impatiently or unconsciously like standing in line or brushing your teeth and do it mindfully.

-         Before you go to sleep and when you awaken, take some ‘mindful’ breaths instead of allowing your mind to wander over the day’s concerns.

Being mindful doesn’t mean that you will never “multitask”, but you can make multitasking a conscious choice.  It doesn’t mean that you will never be in a hurry, but at least you will be aware that you are rushing. Although upsetting thoughts or emotions won’t disappear, you will have more insight into them and become aware of your choices in responding to them.

Acting on impulses as soon as they come up is what we do in our life all the time.  To become more skillful at managing the stresses of daily life, we must learn to act with mindful attention.  Without mindfulness, we will simply reinforce our conditioned habits, keeping ourselves stuck in our usual patterns.  We can achieve freedom from conditioned responses by developing mindfulness in everything we do.

Helen Selenati is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Coach. She has a private practice in Redwood City and can be reached at helen@selenati.com or by calling 650-596-0807. Also visit www.selenati.com

 

                             

Copyright © 2004 - 2017 Helen Selenati