Mindfulness. This concept is making headlines every now and then. What exactly is this new thing? Will it make your life better?
Mindfulness or rather Mindfulness Meditation is a hot topic these days. I mean it’s literally spreading like a virus. Every day we see new articles pop up with this concept and why you need to add it to your life.
The truth is – it’s not a very new concept. Mindfulness has been in existence the very moment we came into this world. It has been practiced since ages by both Hindus and Buddhists. Only recently, it started making waves in the western world as more and more people started reaping its benefits.
There are apps to help you practice mindfulness meditation at your own time without even needing the presence of an instructor (sweet).
What exactly is mindfulness? Is it some sort of magic that will instantly make you happier? Is it a ritual you need to perform?
Unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s something much simpler and clear. It’s an innate quality. It’s a beautiful process.
All of us have the ability to be mindful. Let’s see how.
Before that, we need to know what mindfulness is.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, simply put, is the ability to be completely present in a particular moment. To be able to connect with your body. If that’s too much of jargon, then here’s an even simplified explanation.
It’s time that you take to stop judging your thoughts and just watch them come and go while being aware of where you are right now and your surroundings.
Imagine yourself sitting at a bus stop watching all the vehicles passing by. What would happen if you go out in the middle of the road and try to interact with the passing vehicles?
You would create a traffic jam. Maybe get hit by a car.
The same applies to your mind. When you are interacting with every thought on your mind, you are creating a mental traffic jam. This traffic jam is making you stressed out and feel uncomfortable.
What if, instead of trying to interact with every passing thought on your mind, you just watched them come and go? You would be calm, relaxed and more comfortable.
It’s not a skill that you have to acquire. You are born with it. It’s one of the gifts that nature has bestowed upon us.
This is another definition of mindfulness.
If you are being completely aware of the task that you are doing at the moment, let’s say brushing your teeth, without indulging with the thoughts in your head – you are mindful (let’s start, ohhmmmmm, nah, not like that).
It’s not a skill that you have to acquire. You are born with it. It’s one of the gifts that nature has bestowed upon us. In fact, you can give it a test drive – right now.
If you are sitting right now, try to be aware of where your body is touching the chair. Your feet on the ground. Your hands on the hand rest, or maybe on the table. The weight of your body on the chair.
Notice how you are breathing right now. Is it deep? Or is it shallow?
Notice how you move your fingers on that trackpad or the mouse wheel as you scroll down to read more of this article.
Notice the thoughts that are coming to your head at the moment.
Don’t engage with them. Just watch them come, acknowledge and let go. Turn the zen mode on.
Feel the difference? Did you notice these tiny little sensations when you started reading this article?
I guess not.
There. You just became mindful.
Was it hard to do? No.
It’s because you are born with this ability to sense and feel. You don’t have to upgrade your body to be mindful.
You just have to be aware of your surroundings.
Now, the question that comes. How does this even help you in your life? I’ll answer that first before moving to anything else.
How Being Mindful Helps?
Apart from making you aware of your surroundings and connecting with your body, mindfulness meditation has loads of other benefits. Practicing mindfulness meditation for a considerable time (say, 8 weeks), regularly, helps you:
Tune Out Distractions and Be More Focused
A regular practice of mindfulness meditation will help you focus better on a particular stuff, be it your work or anything else that you are doing.
Amongst all the waves that your brain produces to communicate with the body, one such is Alpha Rhythm. This wave helps the brain to suppress distractive signals and focus on the thing that you want to focus.
A study conducted by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that people who performed regular mindfulness meditation for 8 weeks, were better in regulating this wave.
This, in turn, helped them direct their attention easily to a task and switch it effortlessly to another when needed. In short, it made them super focused and productive (and you thought you needed coffee to be productive).
Your brain has a part called Amygdala. This region is particularly responsible for inducing stress in your mind.
According to a study, people who practiced mindfulness meditation for a period of 8 weeks, showed decreases in their gray matter density in the amygdala region and a considerable reduction of stress.
Mindfulness is also known to reduce the levels of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is the stress hormone. High levels of cortisol are linked to high stress. Therefore, taming your cortisol levels in the body, mindfulness, in turn, makes you less stressed out.
There are often barriers to discovering yourself or getting to know yourself better. To know who you really are. To realize what you really want from your life.
These barriers can arise either due to lack of information or motivation. Think of both as an obstacle you need to cross to find the mirror that reflects your true self.
Mindfulness can help you overcome these known barriers and portray a clearer picture of your inner self to you.
With regular meditation, you will start to understand your body and mind better. You will start to notice every feeling. Your thoughts will flow in a much-disciplined manner allowing you to take note of them from time to time. Act on them when required.
These little things will help you discover yourself, boost your self-confidence and find your real purpose.
Be More Loving and Caring
We are loving and caring beings, by birth. Most of us though, lose this attitude while growing up, due to certain circumstances. Circumstances that might have left a scar or changed how we think of people around us.
Being mindful brings back that lost attitude and amplifies it to a great extent, according to a study conducted by Northeastern University in Boston.
This show reveals that people who meditated regularly are 300% more likely to help a stranger than someone who didn’t.
Even when no one helped (the bystander effect), 50% of the participants who meditated, offered their help to the random stranger.
That’s a lot of compassion for someone you don’t know. Mindfulness did its magic.
Spend Less At The Hospital
A survey conducted in Quebec, Canada shows that people who practice mindfulness meditation regularly, are very likely to spend less at the hospital or at a clinic. 
Confused? Let’s see it this way.
Meditation helps you maintain a healthy mind. A good mind keeps you away from various diseases and other health problems. Fewer ailments in your body = Fewer visits at the hospital.
The mind and body are connected. Taking care of one impacts the other.
Who knew that mindfulness can result in additional savings?!
Get Less Burned Out At Work
Being overloaded with tasks to do at work is a common problem of many working people. As this happens over and over again, it leads to a burnout. Burnout decreases your productivity and can cause serious health problems.
A facet of mindfulness is predicting a burnout. According to a study conducted by the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, people who practice mindfulness are better at predicting a potential burnout.
Being able to acknowledge the signs of a possible burnout will help you pull the brakes at the right time. This will give you the chance of reckoning what is going wrong with your work and how you need to fix it.
Does Mindfulness Really Work?
Despite all the proven facts about mindfulness, you might still be a little skeptical about this.
It’s normal. I was too when I was introduced to this new idea.
The problem was that I expected immediate results from the process. I naively thought I would see results after a week or at least after a month.
I will tell you what happened to me after I started practicing mindfulness for the first time.
About a year and a half ago, I was introduced to an app called Headspace by one of my friends. Sold by the idea I thought to give it a try.
I started off with the basic packs to learn what meditation is, how to do it and get used to it. It was weird at first but then I started getting into the swing of it. After a week or so, I almost made it a daily habit.
I completed the first three Foundation packs, practicing for 10 mins each day. It didn’t seem hard to get that into my routine.
- Come home from the office.
- Freshen up.
- Sit down and meditate for 10 mins before moving onto something else.
Pretty simple and easy.
The first month with this app is usually free. Wanting to continue, I went ahead a bought a monthly pack. Then something happened.
I lost interest (shit happens, I know).
I skipped a day. Then another. And another. Skipping meditation became by new habit. I continued pushing it to the next day until I realized I had to pay for the subscription next month. That is when I discontinued my membership and said goodbye to mindfulness.
The problem was that I expected immediate results from the process. I naively thought I would see results after a week or at least after a month. Also, I was putting in too much of effort instead of gently following the process.
Failing to see any considerable results after a month, I called it quits. Acknowledging that mindfulness wasn’t for me, I moved on.
Fast forward a year and a half, I suddenly had this urge to try out mindfulness again.
Quickly downloading the Headspace app, I started where I left off. This time it was a totally different experience.
I started off with two things in mind:
- This is not a shortcut to happiness. This process will take time. Years, maybe. I need to have patience.
- I will have to flow with it and not struggle to follow the process.
As of now, I finished off three packs, namely Anxiety, Anger, and Balance. Interestingly, I am still going strong and I bought a year of subscription this time – a proof of my commitment.
What I have noticed after practicing mindfulness for just about 2 months now is that I feel different.
I react or rather respond to situations differently. I am able to recognize when I am angry and choose to acknowledge it and let that thought pass.
Similarly, when I am anxious, I notice that I am feeling anxious, acknowledge that I am not alone in this world who are feeling so, and gently let that thought pass.
Another habit that I have developed is taking deep breaths. Whenever I am feeling stressed out or anxious, I notice that I automatically start taking deep breaths. That seems to calm me down and help me get out of the situation.
I am learning to tame my thoughts and mind and getting better every single day. It’s a wonderful journey that I have started.
I don’t need any scientific proofs now. I have witnessed it works for me. I was wrong before.
Mindfulness is love.
Adding Mindfulness Meditation To Your Routine
Contrary to the popular belief that meditation is for people who sit on top of mountains trying to find out the meaning of life – it’s not. Thankfully, you don’t have to book a ticket to The Himalayas as well (phew, I almost started packing).
You just need 10 mins each day and an app on your smartphone. Andy Puddicombe will teach you everything you need to meditate mindfully on the Headspace app.
If you want to extend your mindfulness outside those 10 mins, then here are some nifty tricks to help you out.
While You’re Brushing
Brushing can a monotonous task. Instead of trying to think about what you are going to do throughout the day, focus on the task of brushing your teeth.
Feel the bristles on your gums. Notice how you move your brush. Notice the taste of your toothpaste. Enjoy the process.
Instead of being a monotonous one, it will suddenly become an interesting activity. You will feel calm by not letting the crowd of thoughts cause a traffic jam on your mind the first thing in the morning.
While You’re Taking Shower
Being a bathroom singer is interesting. Even better?
Take the time to feel the warmth or cold of the water hitting your body. The fresh feeling as you gently scrub your body.
Relax. Close your eyes and enjoy your time. Try not to indulge in any thoughts at that time. If anything comes to your mind just gently let it pass.
You will feel fresh, your mind clearer and your mood obviously better. A perfect way to kickstart your morning.
While You’re Commuting
Don’t get sucked into that phone. Notifications will pop up every minute. Keep that phone in your pocket and notice your surroundings.
Maybe you will notice the city differently or witness some beautiful moment. Maybe you will meet new people. See a kid do something funny. Added bonus, you will save yourself from accidents most of the time.
I suffered an accident a year ago because I was too busy thinking about the line of code that I’m going to write the moment I reach office. I never noticed what was in front of me.
Getting bloody and having spent some time at the hospital, I finally got that into my mind. What’s better? I never noticed the city as I do now. It looks and feels so damn beautiful.
Try it. You will feel better, calmer and happier.
While You’re Eating
Turn a boring chewing activity into a fun process. Notice every bite. Feel the taste of the food that you are having. Relish it. Enjoy the food (remember, that chicken died for you, show it some respect).
Get in the moment. Be aware of how you chew. Smell the food. Your lunch time can be a perfect time to unwind from the morning work and get ready for the next half of the day.
You will never feel the same about food after you try out this technique. Your first step to becoming a foodie.
I rarely do anything when I eat nowadays. I devote my full attention to the food and enjoying it.
While You’re Working Out
Focus your attention on the workout instead of letting your mind wander off to a distant land. Focus on the movements of your body whether you’re running or lifting weights.
Connect your mind with your muscles. Work them out real good. Feel the burn. Feel the contractions. Your workout will level up.
Moreover, you will save yourself from injuries by focusing on the workout itself and not be distracted.
Believe me, it’s hard to keep me away from the gym. I feel so fresh after a workout. Particularly when I do it mindfully.
Overcoming The Initial Resistance
Starting off with mindfulness meditation can be a pretty daunting task. You might want to give up after a few sessions. Just like I did.
It might start to seem ineffective and a waste of your time. You might start dragging yourself to that 10 min session every day.
I know the feeling.
Don’t give up. Stick with it until you see some changes in the way you behave and handle situations. I’m sure it will be worth the wait and you will eventually get there.
Some tips to get you through the rough times:
- Remember why you started in the first place.
- Remind yourself that it’s not a drug, it will take some time.
- Don’t try to too hard. Relax and let go. Enjoy the process.
- Don’t sit stiff or in an uncomfortable pose. Relax, let your spine take its natural curvature (this is important, it made a lot of difference for me).
- Try to practice mindfulness outside that 10 min window. It will start to seem more natural and easier.
What To Do Now?
Don’t overthink. Just start being mindful right now. Here’s what you need to do:
- Download the Headspace app on Android or iOS. (this is the only meditation app that I have used)
- Start with their Foundation course. Andy will guide you beautifully. (use speakers instead of earphones, allows you to be more connected with your surroundings)
- Convert regular boring tasks into mindful ones (try this mini mindful moment).
- Try to be mindful as much as you can in your daily routine. Think outside of the app. Be creative.
- Be patient. Don’t give up. It takes time but it works.
- Enjoy a better life.
When you get it right, it’s not a very complex activity. It will start to feel more natural. Actually, it is natural.
You just need to do it right. You will get there. I have. You will too.
Believe in yourself and in the journey.
Ready to start a meditation streak now?