Updated: Oct 1
What are the benefits of mindfulness and
how can it help us?
In my last article, Be Mindful With The Owl, we looked at how mindfulness can help with intuition and self guidance. The aim of this post is to expand more about mindfulness and the many benefits it offers.
Mindfulness has been around for many years and has foundations within Buddhism. Recently, within the last few years it has grown in popularity and is widely recommended as a tool to promote emotional well-being.
What is mindfulness?
The basic concept of mindfulness is to bring your attention to the present moment. It is believed that it is in the present moment where we are truly living and where happiness lies. Yesterday is in the past and tomorrow hasn’t happened yet. For this reason, it is particularly beneficial for people who are experiencing depression or anxiety.
Depression is more likely to occur whilst thinking about the past and re-living past events, whereas anxiety is more likely to occur whilst worrying about the future. That leaves the present moment where you can truly appreciate where you are now.
When people hear the term mindfulness, they often think of mindful meditation. This is where you sit or lie down and focus on your breathing and sensations in different parts of your body. With this method you simply allow thoughts to pass without attachment, almost watching them like clouds. This is a fantastic technique, which you can use to quickly regulate your emotions when stressed or as a regular practice for long term benefits. However, you can practice mindfulness without meditating.
How can you practice mindfulness without meditating?
You can be mindful whilst walking – paying attention to what you can see, hear, smell or feel around you at that particular time. Have you ever just walked and listened to the birds? I often find that when I’m lost in my own thoughts I don’t notice the birds. This knowledge has helped me become more mindful whilst outdoors, as I now actively listen for the birds.
Likewise you can be mindful whilst driving, focusing completely on what you are doing, what you are seeing, hearing and reacting to. Whilst this sounds like an obvious thing, how many times have you driven somewhere and can’t really remember much about the journey because you’ve been lost in thought or conversation. Was that thought about the present moment?
Being mindful during conversations can really improve relationships. Quite often, especially when there is a lot going on, people follow a different thought process which is running in parallel to the conversation, or they are distracted by background noise or mobile phones etc. This can result in meanings being lost and messages being misunderstood or forgotten. If you actively listen to what people are saying, people feel more valued and understood.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Just understanding the concept of mindfulness can help you see some of its benefits. We have already discussed the benefits of mindfulness on our emotions. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that practicing mindfulness meditation on a regular basis has a positive impact on mood and emotions over time. This impact has also been evidenced on MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans, which have shown a reduction in neural activity following a course in mindfulness. This reduction in activity has been seen in the amygdala, which is the area of our brain responsible for our emotions and known to activate the fight, flight or freeze response related to fear. (Farb et al: 2010 & Desbordes 2012 cited by Powell 2018).
Other benefits include increased intuition, which are discussed in my previous blog Be Mindful With The Owl, and increased creativity, which in turn can improve problem solving (Colzato, Ozturk and Hommel: 2011). By focusing on the breath and allowing thoughts to freely come and go, you let go of all prior knowledge and experiences. This allows more room for creative ideas to grow, helps you to see past your current perspective and allows you to see a problem from a different angle.
Evidence also shows that regular mindfulness practice leads to improvements in working memory and attention, along with a reduction in mind-wandering (Mrazek M.D et al: 2013). If you are somebody whose mind is constantly busy, juggling several tasks at once and easily distracted then mindfulness and mindful meditation can really help you to regain focus.
Last, but not least mindfulness has several health benefits. It improves sleep, reduces stress – which is linked to health problems such as high blood pressure and heart attacks, and can help with pain management.
As you can see there are many benefits of mindfulness and this article only touches on a few of them. I’d love to hear about your experiences of mindfulness, whether trying it for the first time or whether you already use it as part of your daily practice. Please record your comments in the box below.
Colzato L.S, Ozturk A and Hommel B (2012) Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking. Frontiers in Psychology. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00116
Farb, N. A. S., Anderson, A. K., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., McKeon, D., & Segal, Z. V. (2010). Minding one’s emotions: Mindfulness training alters the neural expression of sadness. Emotion, 10, 25–33. doi:10.1037/ a0017151.supp
Powell A (2018) When Mindfulness Meets Science. The Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-researchers-study-how-mindfulness-may-change-the-brain-in-depressed-patients/
Mrazek M D, Franklin M S, Phillips D T, Baird B, and Schooler J W (2013) Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Psychological Science XX(X) 1–6. sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0956797612459659