The word mindfulness has gained immense popularity over the last few years. Very often we get sucked into mindless activities like endless scrolling on social media, mindless eating, or negative thought patterns. This impacts stress levels, the balance in our body and mind and overall health. In this article, we’ll look at a few mindful practices and tips from the lens of yoga and overall health.
What is mindfulness
Whether it is mindfulness meditation, mindful breathing, mindful eating or just being mindful of thoughts and actions, the concept is one that is being adapted more and more everywhere. Mindfulness is a state of being conscious and aware of everything you think and do. It is the ability to stay in the present moment and focus on what is happening here and now. It is the strength to not think about the past or get carried away with what the future might hold. It is also the ability to calmly accept our feelings, thoughts and sensation.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness reduces stress
being in the present moment allows us to accept situations as they are, let go of worries of the future and focus on what is in front of us. This helps us release stress, tension, anxiety and even depression.
Mindfulness improves physical health
when stress is low, even the physical body is healthier. Blood pressure remains in control, cardiovascular and lung function is better, metabolic markers are optimal and there is an improved quality of sleep.
Mindfulness improves breathing
with mindfulness, comes the ability to breathe deeply and fully. Otherwise, the tendency is to breathe fast and shallow. When our breath is deep, we are more relaxed and calm.
Mindfulness improves energy levels
being mindful ensures we are focusing our energy on what is important in the present. Rather than wasting time and thoughts on unnecessary things. Energy is also better when we are breathing mindfully.
Mindfulness improves mental and emotional health
mindfulness helps to keep negative emotions like anxiety, stress and depression away and helps boost positivity, enthusiasm and overall state of the mind. It helps gain insight into our own feelings and thoughts, and helps us have greater clarity in decision making as well as productivity and creativity.
Research has also shown that when we integrate mindfulness in our day-to-day lives, it can rewire our brain and improve quality of life. Three important parts of the brain benefit from mindfulness:
- The amygdala, responsible for detecting threats and fear is less activated and shrinks after a mindfulness practice.
- The hippocampus is critical to learning and memory. It is more active and dense after mindfulness practices and it helps regulate the amygdala.
- The prefrontal cortex plays a big role in regulating our emotions and behaviors. It is that part of the brain most associated with maturity; including regulating emotions, behavior and making wise decisions.
Yoga and mindfulness
Yoga is a holistic practice which enables one to become mindful. Yoga itself is meant to be practiced mindfully. So when you are staying in the present for one hour on your yoga mat everyday, after some time, it becomes a habit that is practiced all day long. Then there are practices like mindfulness meditation and breathwork which are meant to make you more aware of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Yoga enables you to achieve a higher level of awareness, connection and union between the breath, mind and body.
In a yoga class, a teacher will always tell you to be aware of your body and breath in a posture. The focus should be on the breath while turning inwards to recognize any sensations in the body. Between asana, the mind might wander or an arm might start to ache. But the challenge remains in focusing on the breath and staying still in the moment. With practice, over time, this becomes a habit and much easier to inculcate.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” - Buddha
Tips to be more mindful
Focus on your breath
Pay attention to your breath as it goes in and out. Here your object of being mindful is your breath, so focus your full attention here. The breath is happening with or without our conscious awareness, but by bringing our attention to our breath we can help our mind focus. Notice how you are breathing. Is it shallow or deep? Take five deep belly breaths and focus your attention on your inhale and exhale. Repeat this a few times a day and it will soon become a habit.
Meditation is one of the best practices to develop the habit of mindfulness. At first, you’ll only be getting used to the here and now. But slowly, you’ll develop the practice of being present all day long.
Journal or say a simple morning or evening prayer. It brings your attention to the positivity in your life in the present moment. It brings the good things to the top of mind and allows your mind to stop worrying about the future or past. It also infuses your body with positive energy.
We are so caught up in our lives that eating becomes a mindless activity. The next time you sit down for a meal, forget about your emails, put down your phone and chew your food mindfully. You could focus on how many times you chew before swallowing (the recommended number is 32). Notice if you eat fast or slow? Notice the flavors - you’ll be surprised to learn what you like! Research has shown when we eat mindfully, we digest our food better and absorb more nutrients like vitamins and minerals, and it aids in overall digestive health.
Awareness of the body
Practice withdrawing and being aware of your body during your yoga class. Or do a body-scan meditation regularly. Make a note of what you notice. Are you holding tension in certain regions or muscles? Do you have aches or pains? Do you feel heavy or light? Bringing your attention to your body can help realign your attention to the present but also connect you to the information you need to take better care of your body. You can also practice Yoga Nidra or guided relaxation.
Tap into your senses
Pause and bring your attention to the present. Observe what is going on around you. What noises do you hear? What scents do you smell? What are others around you doing? Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, put your full attention there and observe it through your five senses for a few moments.
Observe your thoughts
Similar to the above, pause and just observe your thoughts. Check what you notice. Are they positive or negative? Are they in the present or somewhere far off?
Listen to your heart
Tap into your emotions. You might go through multiple feelings throughout the day. Pause, listen and notice how you are feeling - are you happy, sad, worried or tense? Are your heart and mind aligned? Observe and take a few deep breaths to relax yourself.
Be a listener
Most of the time we don’t pause to listen. We tune out when someone else is talking or we move onto another conversation. Another way to inculcate mindfulness is to listen with complete attention to others. Listen with your ears, heart and mind. You’ll even notice the quality of your conversations changing!
Spend time in nature
Step outdoors. Notice the greenery around you. Let the sunshine fall on your face. Go for a walk. Observe your surroundings. Just take some time to see what is happening around you. See are simple joys of nature that make us more positive, grateful and bring us to the present moment.
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.” –Sharon Salzberg
These are a few simple practices that help you stay in the present, focus on the now and let go of unwanted thoughts. Being mindful does not mean you will never feel negative thoughts. It only means you will learn to respond in a calm, relaxed and balanced way.