According to professor Daniel J. Siegel, mindfulness is “the practice of intentional, nonjudgmental awareness of moment-to-moment experience”. Importantly, it is a way of thinking. Mindfulness consists of forgiving the past, being open to the future and focusing on the present.
Mindfulness has been practiced globally for centuries through yoga, tai chi, prayer, and meditation. However, it can be extended to any activity – like washing the dishes, walking, reading, eating or simply lying down.
The key to being mindful during an activity is the emphasis on breathing.
Scientific studies have shown that a steady supply of oxygen increases blood flow to the brain. More oxygen becomes readily available to our brain cells, which increases their metabolic function. Our brain begins to generate more energy. Even a few calm breaths can significantly enhance cognition, focus, and creative thinking.
1. Health benefits
Mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety and it has been used to treat clinical patients with depression.
Stress suppresses the immune system and can imbalance our gut microbiome, making the body more susceptible to infection. Scientific findings have shown that practicing mindfulness regularly can boost cells of the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Being mindful during a meal can reduce the temptation to binge eat, which helps manage weight loss.
Mindfulness has also been shown to increase telomerase activity, which protects the degradation of chromosomes and hinders our cells from aging.
2. Learn to control time
Simple mindful exercises can help control the flow of our day. The key is not merely to calm down, but to be conscious of the speed of time and to control its rate.
When learning how to drive a car, we want to control the gears. We wish to tear through mind-numbing highways, but to slow down on roads that require attention. While passing through a stunning coastline, we want to stop the car, have a look around and enjoy the scenery.
Human minds are often set on autopilot. It becomes easy to race through each day without paying attention to speed. Mindfulness can help prevent driving past valuable moments that deserve careful observation.
3. Increase your happiness
American author Dale Carnegie declares that “happiness doesn’t depend on who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think”.
As our mind becomes refocused, we step away from our immediate emotional responses and consciously observe our stream of thought. Practicing mindfulness can lower our expectations and help us calm down the bubbling worries inside our heads.
Mindfulness can further single out the details in everyday life that matter and eliminate the ones that don’t. We can revere and appreciate the small, the seemingly insignificant. Anything and everything around us is a source of gratification. Being conscious of this can amount to an endless source of happiness.
Dan Harris discusses the benefits on mindfulness and meditation.
Jon Kabat-Zinn on separating the self-narrative and the experiential brain networks.