Understanding Mindfulness: Meaning and Techniques
What is mindfulness? How do we achieve it?
If you, too, have asked yourself those questions and struggled with answering and following through – this article is just for you!
We are about to unravel the mystery around what mindfulness is and what you can do to implement it in your everyday life. It sounds scarier and stranger than it actually is. Once it clicks with you, you can enter this natural state at any moment and any place.
What Is the Meaning of Mindfulness
The term says it all. Mindfulness is being full of mind at the present moment. Here and now.
That is an awareness of what is happening around you, with open senses and a clear mind.
The meaning of mindfulness is the fundamental, basic, and even primitive, ability to be fully present at the given moment. I say primitive as it implies emptiness of the mind with no distracting thoughts, something that is closer to our animal nature rather than what distinguishes us as uniquely human – the thinking mind.
Although that statement is correct, it may create wrong expectations and leave you feeling disappointed when you fail to achieve it. Being mindful does not mean shutting off your mind and emptying it from all possible thoughts. Rather it means letting whatever comes to your mind go without dwelling upon it, analyzing, and overthinking. There is no moment when the brain is fully inactive, even when we sleep, it processes information. That is in its nature. And the first thing you need to understand before trying to practice mindfulness.
The above is a very common misconception and confusion when differentiating between mindfulness and meditation. Although they have some common grounds, they are not the same thing.
Mindfulness vs Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation share many similarities and overlap to some extent but are not to be taken interchangeably.
The section above explained briefly that mindfulness is simply an awareness of the surrounding at the present moment. That is, paying attention and noticing whatever you’re doing, wherever you are. That includes all elements of the external environment and the internal happenings – your thoughts, feelings, movements.
Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime, anyhow, and even with anyone. It implies doing whatever you’re doing fully actively involved in the given activity with no other distractions, with all your senses. Whenever you catch your mind drifting away, rudimenting over a situation from a while ago, or making plans for the future, gently bring the focus back and concentrate on the given situation and activity.
Meditation, on the other hand, is a formal, usually seated form of practice. There are many different types of meditation, including a mix with mindfulness. Most popular are Breathing Meditation, Guided Meditation, and Visualization. All of them include calming the mind and focusing it on a given stimulus (the breath, the guiding speech of a teacher, etc.), as well as expanding awareness and experiencing inner peace. Those are areas where mindfulness and meditation overlap.
However, a difference between the two is the direction of the focus – while in meditation, it’s strictly turned inward, in mindfulness, it’s both directed inwards and outwards. Another distinction between the two is the formality. Мeditation is a formal act carried out in given circumstances, while the latter can be performed both as part of formal seated meditation and informally (any place, any time, anyway). All it takes is awareness and presence in whatever we are involved with.
Any activity, which is done with full focus, and no distraction, is an expression of mindfulness. It doesn’t really have to be a spiritual experience or formal practice. There are, however, various combinations between such. А very well-liked one is mindfulness yoga.
We believe yoga should always be performed with full presence and dedication, as in itself, it is a means for reaching a state of focus, calmness of the mind, and awareness.
Although this is true, it may vary depending on the type of yoga. Some practices place greater importance on alignment details and the exact physical posture rather than focus and connection to the inner self.
Mindfulness yoga belongs to the latter type. The main focus and number one priority is the body-mind link. The practitioner follows one simple rule – connecting each movement with the breath. The goal is smoothing the transition from one pose to another in accordance and in sync with inhaling and exhaling, using asana as the vehicle to do so.
Bringing the concentration high in the performance objectives transforms whatever the activity into meditation. This is especially true for mindfulness yoga. It is officially recognized as a variation of meditation, and usually, it is done right before a formal meditation sitting. Another important characteristic is the even greater accent placed on observation of the internal experiences. Again, while this is valid for all types of yoga, this specific kind emphasizes immensely observing the mind and body and listening to whatever they have to share while acting out each of the poses. It’s like having an internal dialog with yourself about what each movement provokes in you.
Mindful yoga implies traditional Buddhist teachings to the physical practice of yoga. Combined, they are a means to strengthen awareness and presence both on and off the mat. At its core lay the Satipatthana – the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, which aim at systematically cultivating self-awareness and compassion through non-judgment, patience, trust, non-striving, letting go, and gratitude.
As we showed you, mindfulness is often associated with meditation and yoga. Another field closely related to it is mental health. There are many reasons for that, and we will explain why in the following section.
Mindfulness and Mental Health
Being an integrative approach that meets the body, mind, and feelings together, mindfulness is a great instrument for managing stress, anxiety, and pretty much any mental suffering. Not only does it help people who are already undergoing such hardships, but it is also recommended as a preventative practice in case of recurrent depression.
Mindfulness meditation has proven to influence positively the activity of the brain and even its structure. Many studies have shown changes in brain wave activity in regions responsible for emotional regulation in people who meditate regularly for many years compared to ones who don’t. A growing piece of evidence suggests that mindfulness is a great remedy for people with mental ill-health as well as those who want to improve their mental wellbeing.
That is true because of the two building components of the mindfulness practice: 1. awareness, and 2. an open and accepting attitude. They work together in relieving stress, suffering, and fear. Awareness allows the practitioner to notice emotions, anxieties, negative perceptions, and self-talk as they arise and approach them objectively and rationally rather than trusting them blindly. This helps in dealing with them with flexibility rather than rigidly. The second element of mindfulness practice encourages acceptance of whatever arises in the mind rather than suppressing or overthinking it. Neither one of those is constructive. Accepting emotions and thoughts give time and resources to deal with them positively at a later point in time.
There are different ways you can implement mindfulness in your everyday life. The next section is dedicated to providing you with specific ideas, among which you can find what you enjoy and start doing them right away!
Getting Started With Mindfulness
Ever wondered how to start implementing mindfulness in your life? You have heard of it, know what it is about, and firmly believe you can greatly benefit from making it part of your daily routine, but you simply don’t know where to begin with?
Continue reading and all this will fall into its place.
Mindful Activities or How to Get Down to Business
As we explained in the lines above, mindfulness can be achieved practically when performing any activity of your daily routine. All it takes is for you to invest yourself fully – to dedicate all your focus to whatever it is you’re doing, point your thought process solely towards it, and not let your mind slip in different directions.
There are however many activities to engage with the goal of being present and focused, as a formal way of meditating. You can try the following:
- Mindful coloring – That is a favorite activity of mine! I personally love coloring mandala books, but there is a huge variety of themed coloring books that you can choose from – floral, with animals, figurative. Sit somewhere comfortable, play calm music, or you can listen to an audiobook (but the latter will distract you from the main activity, so preferably – music with no lyrics), and start filling in with colored pencils, flair, or gel pens.
- Connecting with nature – Taking a walk anywhere in nature, all alone by yourself, focused on the beautiful sights unraveling before your eyes, is a great way to engage in a mindful activity, while also working towards better spiritual well-being. It doesn’t have to be anything special or extraordinary. Ten minutes in the nearby park would do just great.
- Practicing yoga – Needless to say, yoga is a perfect way to ground yourself, connect with your internal world and stay present at the moment. In its essence, every movement should be perfectly synced with the breath – inhaling and exhaling while transitioning from one pose into another. That is how mindfulness is achieved through concentration and awareness.
If you’re looking for more specific methods to get in a mindful state rather than general activities, you should read the section below. We’ve listed popular approaches which can be executed any time you feel like taking a moment to stop and just be.
Mindful Techniques or a Step-by-Step to Becoming Mindful
Besides pleasant activities aimed at centering you in the present moment, there are various techniques you can carry out to do so if you’re feeling anxious or stressed out. We’ve gathered the 3 most popular and easy to execute:
- Mindfulness 5-4-3-2-1 – That technique is not only straightforward and simple but also satisfying and entertaining. All you have to do is take a moment and stop to examine your surroundings. Take a pen and a piece of paper or simply do it mentally. Look around and notice five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. By the time you get through listing all of those, you will be feeling calmer and more present.
- Positive affirmation – This technique is highly used among yogis, Buddhists, and all who exercise meditation. Usually, it is one of the first things done in those practices. You, too, can begin your day by stating in your mind what you are grateful for, what you value in yourself, or what is your intention for the day. Positive self-talk is uplifting and helps calm us down and remember all the great things in life.
- The Body scan – It is yet another popular exercise for practitioners of mindfulness and a great technique for beginners. You need to lay on your back with your palms facing up and feet falling slightly apart. An alternative way to this is taking a seat comfortably on a chair with feet resting on the floor, or if you’re a yogi, you can sit in a lotus pose. Then you’re guided through a narrative by a facilitator. Focus your mind on his voice and follow his instructions thoroughly.
Those are just some of the techniques out there which you can try out. We reserve our right to enrich this list further.
Any activity we engage with could be and should be performed mindfully if we want to experience it to the fullest and give the most of us into it. Try this out yourself – walk in the park, talk with a friend, or simply enjoy your cup of coffee with your full awareness in place. You will feel the difference!