Athletic friends breathing and feeling harmony mindfulness in asana near ocean

Mindfulness: What is it and why do you need it?

Mindfulness has become popular in recent years. Many psychological treatments use it as a pillar of their therapy. Examples include approaches like Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MBCT). Other therapies incorporate it as a technique. The general population is also jumping on the mindful bandwagon with apps like Calm and Headspace gaining market share with each passing month. So why is the west now buzzing with a technique that has been around for millennia and practiced avidly in Tibetan and Zen Buddhism and Hindu religions? Well, quite simply, because it works.

What Studies Say

As scientists began putting it through rigorous empirical testing, we have learned exactly how crucial it is for mental health and well-being. Studies have found that listening to a five-minute mindful meditation can increase insight and creative thinking. Monks who have trained in mindfulness for a lifetime actually can do super human things, such as, raising their internal body temperature to the point they can dry a wet sheet in a cold room and breaking boards on their heads without any pain or injury. However, even a modest mindfulness practice has been found to alter brain structures, providing more permanent relief from common problems. The list of benefits from mindful meditation includes: decreased rumination and anxiety, boosts to working memory, increased focus, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility and even relationship satisfaction.

Barriers to Becoming Mindful

Chances are that you or those close to you could benefit from adding some mindfulness to their lives but there are barriers. When I started adding mindful practices to my life, I thought meditation was “not for me”. “I’ve tried it”, I said to a psychiatrist once, “I just think too much”. I have since heard this same tune sung by my young clients. I now tell them what he told me, “There is a reason they call it a practice”. Mindfulness is like exercise. You don’t go to the gym expecting to work out once and feel great for the rest of your life and it may even feel worse before it feels better. Do it regularly, however, and you will find a mental strength that you didn’t think you had. That has been my experience and the experience of many others.

Just Do it!

Young African American man doing yoga in an apartment

Mindfulness is simply “non-judgemental attention to the present moment”. Which means that even if you don’t like meditation, you can still practice mindfulness. You can mindfully do the dishes, paint your nails, colour a picture, take a walk or eat a raisin (click here for how). Or, do a mindful activity like Yoga, Qi gong or Tai-chi . Of course, you can also select from a wide range of guided meditations and/or meditation apps. No matter how you choose to do it, give it a chance and see what strengths you can cultivate! And check out this great blog on Mindfulness for Kids!

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