Beginner's Guide To Mindfulness

March 19, 2023

Mindfulness is a relatively new trend in the psychology and mental wellness fields, but it is quickly gaining popularity as an effective treatment for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. However, even those who do not have a mental illness can also achieve significant benefits from practicing mindfulness on a regular basis. Of course, the challenge for many individuals is understanding what mindfulness is and how to get started. With this in mind, here is a compilation guide for beginners on understanding mindfulness and for those who arestarting to practice it.

What Is Mindfulness?

The first thought many have when they hear the term 'mindfulness' is to ask what it is. Though there are countless explanations, at its core mindfulness is paying attention to what is currently happening exactly as it is. Mindfulness connects with the present in such a way that it allows individuals to discover habitual thought patterns, automatic behaviors, and similar, particularly if they did not realize these things were happening before. Mindfulness is, then, living in the present, rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future, as the vast majority of individuals do. Why do most individuals live in the past or worry about the future? It all has to do with being on autopilot and believing life is black and white.

Turning Off Autopilot

One of the major tenets of mindfulness is no longer operating on autopilot. Traditionally, individuals immediately go from the situation to their reaction. With any mindfulness practice, the idea is to insert mindfulness, or awareness, between the situation and the reaction. For many individuals, automatic thoughts and actions often mean unhealthy habits and negative frames of mind, as it seems the majority of people are pessimists and tend to believe the worst options before anything else. Mindfulness seeks to train the brain to avoid the automatic response, the autopilot, and create a place in which the individual can make an alternate and more conscious choice from a new perspective.

Get Rid Of Judgment

Whether it is deciding between two choices or even simply classifying a thought or feeling, many individuals believe one is the 'right' choice or thought to have, and the other is 'wrong.' Mindfulness takes the position there is no 'right' or 'wrong' thought, choice, and similar. Instead, particularly concerning treating depression and anxiety, mindfulness wants individuals to recognize their thoughts as thoughts without passing any judgment on the contents of the thought. The judgment is often what brings on feelings of anxiety or depression, as well as pressure.

How To Meditate

Meditation is a key component of mindfulness, particularly formal meditation for someone new to the idea. Start by sitting cross-legged on a cushion on the floor or a chair, both with a straight back. Many find it helpful to take a deep breath and close their eyes as they begin. From there, simply breathe in and out slowly, keeping your attention completely on your breath. Notice how the air fills your lungs and exits the lungs. When distractions or distracting thoughts come, and they will, briefly acknowledge the thought and then turn your attention back to your breath. Most individuals find silently counting while they breathe quite helpful for maintaining their focus. In any case, do not feel guilty or like you have failed if you become distracted. It happens to everyone, and the point of mindfulness meditation is to acknowledge the distraction rather than ignore it and to refocus back on your breathing.

Mindfulness meditation becomes easier the more often you practice it. Beginners should try meditating for ten minutes a day for two weeks and observe from there what works for them, even if it is to merely continue practicing ten minutes a day. Also consider meditating at the same time each day, such as before bed, to maximize the beneficial effects of the practice.

Key Benefits Of Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation, as mentioned, is about focusing on your breath and bringing your attention back to it when it wanders. Broadly, this practice enhances an individual's attention span and ability to focus, which can be applied to many different areas of life. For instance, it can help students study for longer or maintain focus during an exam. Mindfulness meditation and deep mindful breathing have also been shown to greatly reduce the body's production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Many studies go into specific benefits, such as lowered blood pressure, increased immune system functionality, increased self-awareness, and lessened pain sensitivity

Of course, the overarching benefit of mindfulness is the ability to live in the present without worrying about the past or future, which can significantly alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and similar issues with mental health.

Used with Other Mental Health Treatment

Mindfulness can be used with other mental health treatment, especially when an individual is dealing with a diagnosed mental illness. Many mental health conditions are caused by a lack or excess of certain chemicals in the brain. When this is the case, it can help to combine tactics like mindfulness with medications like anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants. There are other therapeutic methods that can be used in conjunction with mindfulness as well. One common therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With CBT, patients treat their mental health symptoms by working on having appropriate responses to irrational emotions. When patients combine cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness, they get a better sense of how to deal with their emotions and stay present in the moment.

When To Practice

Some individuals may wonder when they should practice mindfulness. What are the best times to use the technique? The truth is individuals can practice mindfulness in almost any environment including home, work, and school. When an individual feels themselves getting stressed or 'stuck' in their own head, that's a good time to become more aware of their surroundings and stay present in the moment. When practicing at home, it's good to incorporate mindfulness into a relaxing self-care routine. When practicing in potentially stressful situations, individuals will use mindfulness techniques to lessen internal stress and keep their focus on the world around them.

History Of Mindfulness

Though mindfulness has seemed to surge in popularity throughout the West over the past few years, the technique has been practiced for thousands of years. The practice is a common part of Buddhism and Hinduism, and others have used mindfulness for non-religious meditation practices. There are also some roots of mindfulness practices in Judaism and certain Christian traditions. Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world and can be traced back as far as eight thousand years ago. Buddhism is a younger religion, having been founded in somewhere from 400 to 500 BC. With both Hindu and Buddhist traditions, meditation and mindfulness are used to connect to the surrounding world.

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