Mindfulness Practice: 8 Powerful Benefits
This morning I experienced a series of small mishaps that got my day started on the wrong note.
I woke up later than usual. My daughter missed her ride to school, so I had to take her, pushing the start of my work day forty minutes later.
As we were leaving in a hurry, we backed over the trash bags at the bottom of the driveway (it's trash day), and scattered the contents everywhere. So when I returned, I spent another fifteen minutes gathering trash and cleaning up.
My phone started ringing as soon as I walked back inside, and several important emails were dinging on my computer that needed to be addressed.
I have a lunch appointment today at noon, and here it is 10:00 in the morning, and I'm not showered or dressed.
So the first half of my day has been reduced to about an hour of solid work before I need to get ready to go to the appointment.
Needless to say, when I sat down (finally) to write this post — the topic of which I'd planned last night — I wasn't very mindful. In fact, my thoughts and feelings were everywhere except for the here and now.
Life has an uncanny way of tearing you away from mindfulness in the present moment.
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Mindfulness is state of active, open attention and awareness — moment to moment presence without judgment. But I couldn't find any definitions of mindfulness that included colorful cursing, feeling your blood pressure surge, or stomping around in frustration because things haven't gone the way you anticipated or hoped.
I have great intentions of savoring the moment, calmly directing my awareness to where I am and what I'm doing while allowing my feelings and thoughts to float by without scrutiny. But I'm not always successful. Maybe you can relate.
Fortunately for me, sitting down to write this post reminded me how much mindfulness matters.
It's hard to be creative, aware, and tuned in to the task at hand when your mind is a million miles away and your body is reacting in unpleasant and distracting ways.
Before I started writing, even though I was already way behind in my day, I took ten minutes to breath and mindfully calm my mind. I brought myself back to the joy of this moment, writing this post for people I care about.
However, the practice of mindfulness is so much more than just calming yourself down after a stressful event or refocusing your attention away from life's distractions.
Mindfulness is a way of life that elevates your quality of life, improves your mental and physical health, and essentially changes your outlook and view of yourself, your experiences, and even time itself.
Here are 8 powerful benefits of mindfulness practice . . .
1. Mindfulness reduces mental rumination and overthinking.
Rumination and overthinking cause anxiety, stress, and agitation and can lead to depression. Research studies support that practicing mindfulness helps you “stay out of your head” with overthinking.
In a study by Chambers et al. (2008) 20 people with no previous meditation experience participated in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat.
The group reported significantly higher mindfulness, less rumination, and fewer symptoms of depression than the control group.
2. Mindfulness reduces stress.
The same study revealed that practicing mindfulness can decrease the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Says University of California post doctoral researcher for the study Tonya Jacobs, “This is the first study to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale.”
This is one of many studies supporting the positive impact mindfulness has in relieving stress.
3. Mindfulness improves memory.
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to dramatically improve focus, memory, and reading comprehension. It reduces mind-wandering, thus improving performance.
Studies of students who practice mindfulness show they perform better on tests than those who don't.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed in a study that regular meditation (a mindfulness practice) causes the brain's cerebral cortex to thicken.
The cerebral cortex is responsible for higher brain functions like memory, concentration, and learning.
4. Mindfulness helps with emotional reactivity.
With the stressors in our day-to-day lives and relationships, it's difficult to maintain emotional control.
Often our feelings burst out in reactive ways like losing our temper, having an outburst of tears, or speaking out before thinking.
In yet another study (Ortner et al., 2007), researchers showed how people who had just a few months to many years of practice in mindfulness meditation were able to disengage from emotionally upsetting pictures and focus better on a cognitive task as compared with people who saw the pictures but did not practice mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness practices help us become less emotionally reactive and respond to stressful situations in calmer, healthier ways.
5. Mindfulness promotes cognitive flexibility.
Cognitive flexibility is the ability to combine knowledge and experience in new ways and to apply thinking to situations one has not previously encountered.
One study (Siegel, 2007a) found that the practice of mindfulness meditation allows people to develop self-observation (observing the self without judgment), which disengages the automatic neural pathways created by prior learning and develops new neural pathways to allow present-moment input to be integrated in a new way. It helps our thinking to be less rigid and more creative.
6. Mindfulness builds happier relationships.
A University of North Carolina study of “relative happy, nondistressed couples” revealed that couples who actively practiced mindfulness saw improvements to their relationship happiness.
They also enjoyed healthier levels of “relationship stress, stress coping efficacy, and overall stress.”
The practice of mindfulness allows us to be present with our partners, to be less emotionally reactive with them, and to more quickly overcome stressful situations in the relationship.
7. Mindfulness helps tamp down fear.
Mindfulness practices help reduce the amygdala — the fear center of the brain. And the practices can increase the rational brain or prefrontal cortex, to promote a calmer, steadier brain.
When you detach from your fearful thoughts and feelings and observe them without judgment, they lose much of their power.
8. Mindfulness improves sleep.
Stress is one of the most common causes for insomnia and sleep problems. But mindfulness techniques promote calm and reduced ruminating and anxiety that can disrupt sleep.
A University of Utah study revealed that mindfulness meditation practices help us get a better night's sleep. According to study researcher Holly Rau, “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day.
In addition, higher mindfulness was associated with lower activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress.”
Practicing some form of mindfulness daily is a goal everyone should embrace in order to fully enjoy the richness of every moment, every relationships, and every activity we engage in. Some mindfulness exercises you can try include . . .
- mindful meditation
- guided imagery
- conscious breathing
- focused awareness on the task at hand
- full presence with another person
- mindful eating with full awareness
- conscious and mindful purchasing
- mindful exercise like yoga, tai chi, or Qigong
- active listening
- sitting in nature
- focused thoughts on gratitude, compassion, love
- prayer or mental focus on a higher power or concept
Mindfulness has a way of making time disappear, as you are no longer focused on the future or dwelling in the past. Every moment is fully experienced, and you become lost in the moment because you are so deeply immersed in it.
Even during difficult times, mindfulness allows you to cope because you aren't projecting into a future of suffering. You are simply being, and that is exactly what we are meant to do — just be.
Do you have a mindfulness practice that you enjoy regularly? How has it positively impacted your life?
Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.