Who can forget the winter of 1968, when one of the world’s most popular bands—the Beatles—visited India…to stay at an ashram. Sir Paul McCartney and Co had famously travelled across the Pacific, to attend an extensive course on meditation in Rishikesh.
Fast forward to 2023, and the concepts of meditation and mindfulness have only garnered more attention, and a wider following, among celebrities and common folk alike. But what exactly is mindfulness? Let’s break it down.
What is mindfulness
According to the American Psychological Association, “Mindfulness is awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings”. It teaches you to be more ‘present’ in the moment, and feel your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and other here-and-now experiences—both mental and physical—with stoic calmness. You learn to rein in your subconscious mind and train yourself to tune out yesterday, quit worrying about tomorrow, and be fully engaged in today. And as you obtain more awakened, zen-like cognisance of your being, you come to detach, accept, and accommodate—instead of being reactive or impulsive.
And its advantages are
Reduces stress: Mindfulness is a powerful implement to improve one’s holistic well-being—mental, physical as well as emotional. A group of Harvard researchers conducted a study, wherein they concluded that mindfulness is indeed associated with reductions in stress and anxiety. It also led to positive changes in the participants’ self-awareness and compassion, and marked enhancement in their learning, memory, and emotion regulation.
Works on depression: Mindfulness is also found to improve symptoms of depression and prevent a relapse, as corroborated by a report in the National Library of Medicine, among many others. This is largely because mindfulness exercises instil in you the ability to stay grounded, and to ‘de-centre’ yourself from negative thoughts, according to a 2021 article of News in Health (NIH), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Leads to relaxation: Not just that, meditation or mindfulness can stimulate the vagus nerve and increase vagal tone, too, promoting positive feelings and relaxation. It can, thus, be a great stress buster, energising you while simultaneously calming you down.
More benefits: A vast body of related literature supports that mind relaxing exercises can be used for
- Pain management and healing
- Lowering high blood pressure,
- Improving sleep quality.
- Sharpening one’s focus
- Increasing efficiency
- Enhancing attention span
This is how you should start
There are numerous concentration exercises through which one can tap into mindfulness. These generally involve meditation, reflection, and introspection, clubbed with techniques like breath work. Also, contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily have to sit still or remain silent to attain mindfulness—it can be easily integrated in our daily lives, while going about activities such as walking or eating. The NIH report goes as far as stating that you can be mindful even when interacting with others.
Start your day with a few minutes of morning meditation
To connect with the body, you can practise Body Scan Meditation—it makes you more conscious of your body, as you mentally feel every part, from head to toe. Raisin Exercise is another good option to begin with. Here, you have to describe the raisin’s looks, texture, smell, etc, as if this is the first time you’ve ever laid eyes on one. The task helps realign one’s mind to the present, and focus on one object—you learn to observe, not just see.
According to the Harvard Gazette, a daily practice is most beneficial. It can just be about 10 minutes per day of calming-your-mind exercises. However, 20 minutes, twice a day is often recommended for maximum results.