People Keep Talking About Mindfulness — What IS it?

How to Start Reaping Mindfulness Benefits.

It’s like a new buzz-word. We keep hearing it all over the place. But what are they talking about?

What IS Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is learning to be aware of the present moment — and not spacing-out. It’s paying attention to the now. . . and the now. . . etcetera. It’s focusing your awareness on what you’re doing right now — at any given moment. It’s how to live your life more fully engaged.

Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash

Mindfulness is the antithesis of distraction, and it helps heal distractedness and disorganization. It’s a daily practice. It takes a little time training yourself — and your mind — to keep coming back to the present.

Why Would I Practice Mindfulness?

There are dozens of studies and articles discussing the mental and emotional benefits of mindfulness. And dozens more discussing various physical benefits.

As summarized and outlined, on HeadSpace.com, we find consistent mindfulness practice offers practitioners benefits like:

1. Reducing stress and anxiety.
2. Helping bring blood pressure down.
3. Having a positive impact on several health markers.
4. Improving sleep.
5. Teaching us patience and persistence.
6. Helping improve mood.
7. Helping us increase focus and concentration.
8. And. . . Preliminary research suggests it helps decrease depression.
That’s just for starters.

I believe it will make more sense to understand what mindfulness is NOT and how many of our everyday actions push it out-of-reach.

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

What Mindfulness ISN’T

It’s not what the vast majority of people practice these days.
Here’s what I mean.

Have you ever been zipping around — Mach-nine with your hair on fire — trying to do several things at once? And you end up misplacing your keys, your glasses, your phone, your purse. . . or anything else you need regularly?

Or… you get to where you’re going and can’t remember if you turned off the ______ (iron, coffee pot, lights, water. . .etc.) or if you locked the door.

It’s maddening, isn’t it? Frustration, annoyance, agitation, and even anger can result. These are stress reactions, not mindfulness.

I know this will sound harsh, but it’s the truth — what I’ve described in the last couple of paragraphs is mindlessness. It’s the opposite of mindfulness. And it’s harmful to our brains, our health, and it undermines overall wellness.

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

How Are We Keeping Mindfulness Away?

These days, we tend to live inside Mindlessness Central with all the multi-tasking we attempt every day. It’s an epidemic problem!

Lots of folks will tell you how multi-tasking is great. They think it boosts productivity. Some will say they excel at it. They are deluding themselves and misinforming you.

Some proponents might be bosses or managers — pushing you to get more done. They’re doing you a disservice and lying to themselves.

The truth is, studies show multi-tasking plummets productivity and diminishes IQ.

Mindlessness is frequently the reason we lose track of all sorts of things. We forget someone’s name. We go into a room and forget why we went in there. Suddenly remembering why, you go back, get what you needed, then forget where you were on your project.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

These are all instances of not being aware of the present moment. If you’re not mindful of the present moment, then you’re probably not paying full attention to what you are doing in that moment.

And how could you remember anything under those circumstances?

When these things arise, how frustrated do you feel? Especially if it happens repeatedly. It fuels a chaotic mind and disorganized spaces — which diminishes health and creates further stress.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Here’s a Secret I’ve Learned

The moments where I lose the most are when I’m doing anything other than paying complete attention to what I’m doing “now.”

If I’m thinking of several different things at once, mentally planning tasks, talking on the phone, or daydreaming — those are moments I lose track
of items, ideas, or what I was supposed to be doing. Losing time in the process.

But there IS hope in the form of learning mindfulness.

Benefits I’ve Noticed

As I’ve come back into a mindfulness practice, I realize my morning sessions help me feel more “plugged-in.” When I wake up, I need some way to get my brain and my body back in sync — realigned. Mindfulness does this for me.

Photo #5 in Paula’s “Spa Collection” Photographic Series

Mindfulness has also helped me notice (more often) when I become distracted or pulled off-task during my day. This enables me to gently re-direct my energies and refocus on what I need to be doing.

Most days, I feel calmer. However, when stupid things do happen, I’m able to breathe in and let it out, then respond more evenly and thoughtfully. I don’t become frustrated as often. I’ll admit, it’s a work in progress, but I see improvements.

How Does One Battle Mindlessness and Win Mindfulness?

You don’t.
Words like “battle,” “warrior,” or “fight,” along with phrases like “wage war” or “beat it” or “win the battle” all imply there’s an enemy. Your mind and your brain are not the enemies.

Where there’s an “enemy,” it suggests judgment. Those are all negative approaches. Choose your words and thoughts carefully. When it comes to adopting mindfulness, we need to approach it with kindness, gentleness, and without judgment. It requires a positive, building-up approach.

Battling or fighting anything raises defenses and perpetuates a stream of adverse adrenal reactions and feelings. You don’t want to tear-down or defeat your mind and brain. They are a precious part of you. We simply need to train and tame them gently.

Photo #4 in Paula’s “Spa Collection” Photographic Series

You must learn to relax, release, and allow the flow of life and breath — and teach yourself to become mindfully aware of this flow.

So How Does One Attain Mindfulness?

Learning to meditate is how we quiet the mind and train our brain into mindfulness. Don’t go rolling your eyes at me just yet. Hear me out.

If you feel like you’ve always “flunked” meditation and can’t do it, you’re not alone. Maybe you have images stuck in your head involving sitting like a pretzel, chanting weird stuff in foreign languages, and maintaining an “empty” mind. And perhaps you’ve given up because your monkey-mind just won’t shut up, so forget it!

Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash

It’s okay. A bunch of us have felt like meditation flunkies, but it doesn’t have to be so flippin’ hard. There are much easier ways to learn this.

Let’s dump those crazy mandates and expectations. The good news is — those poses and actions are for experienced meditators with years of practice. They choose to go those routes, but meditation doesn’t need to be so complex. Meditation is so much simpler than you might have thought.

There, there. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief.

One of Paula’s many lavender plants. Photo by Paula High-Young

Breathe . . .

As long as you’re at it, take another deep breath. Feel better? Of course you do. Because breathing helps clear the mind and bring us into the present moment. It’s calming.

Do this for about 3–5 minutes — staying mindful on the in and out of breath, and you just meditated.

Oh sure, lots of distracting thoughts pop in and carry us away for a bit. This is completely normal, and it’s okay.

Treat it like a kid’s helium balloon on a string, trying to get away.

As soon as you realize your thoughts have wandered, gently bring them back with a kind, non-judgmental tug on “the string.” Breathe in. . . and out.

Oops! My thoughts took me away again.”
It really is okay. Gently tug them back in, pop the thought bubble, and release the thoughts — for a little while. Just keep doing this — no judgment.
It simply is.

Paula’s Bitmoji — Lotus Pose Meditation

I Needed Some Assistance

I don’t know about you, but for me? The trouble was remembering to do this consistently, and getting some reassurance when my mind wanders — it’s normal.

I worried, “Am I doing it right?”

And no, I don’t always sit like this. Sometimes I stretch my legs out. It still works.

Sometimes I end up with cats in my lap — but that’s for the more experienced practitioner. ;-) I call it “Purr Therapy.”

I’ve solved my issues (except for cats in my lap) by using an app called HeadSpace. I love it. And no, I’m not being compensated to say that. It was recommended to me by a trusted psychologist friend. I learned it keeps coming up as the #1 app in meditation app research.

Please don’t freak-out about needing help learning to do this. It’s easy. The app has reminders you can set. You earn badges for consistent milestones. And you can invite friends to join you.

You can banish those mental-images of half-naked gurus sitting like pretzels, chanting obscure syllables, and imagining a lotus flower bathed in golden light — or whatever. You won’t need to do any of that.

At HeadSpace.com, they tell us,
“. . .think of meditation as exercise for the brain. Through meditation, we can build up areas of our brain and actually rewire it to enhance positive traits like focus and decision making and diminish the less positive ones like fear and stress. Most importantly, this means there is a possibility to change your brain for the better in a way that is long-lasting.”

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

You can attain this by learning to sit a few minutes, relax, breathe, and keep coming back to the breath.

Feels Like a Friend
Easing Me into My Day

The guy who put HeadSpace together, Andy, has such a kind and gentle way of guiding us through a quick meditation.

He has a soothing, non-judgmental, and nurturing voice. Anymore, my days don’t feel complete if Andy doesn’t help me ease into it. Heck, I feel like we’re Buds now!

There are, of course, other apps you can use. And I’ve tried a few of them. They were. . . Okay. But from what I’ve learned so far, they don’t seem to be as highly rated or have as much research backing them. Maybe that’s why I enjoy this one so much more than others.

It’s up to you to find a mindfulness meditation app you like that you’re comfortable with, and you feel guides you best. So take the necessary steps and get started. I believe you’ll be glad you did.

Stay positive. Breathe. Be good to yourself. Get outside for some fresh air when you can. Keep moving forward. Even baby-steps count!

And… be kind to others. We are all doing the best we know how to do, with what we think we know at the time, and with the tools we know are at our disposal.
Be Well,
~Paula

Paula High-Young is a freelance holistic health and personal development copywriter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. She’s also fluent in holistic wellness coaching, herbal medicinals, Reiki, and essential oils. You can find her website at HolisticWellnessWriters.com and connect with her on LinkedIn, at Holistic Wellness Writers on Facebook, and sometimes on Twitter. You can also find her photography on Flickr.

Holistic health copywriter & editor. Wellness coach. Amateur radio operator KZ5YL, photographer, & hot-air balloon pilot. www.HolisticWellnessWriters.com