How to Develop Mindfulness?
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Mindfulness practice — bringing all of your attention and awareness to the present — can have many benefits for your emotional and physical health, as well as for the relationships in your life. While you can practice many mindfulness practices regularly, learning how to live in the moment is also a way of life. With practice, you can learn to live a more mindful life and become more aware of all your actions. However, in today’s fast-paced world, it can be difficult to stop and be present. After all, many things compete for your attention, and multitasking can be stressful. However, if you consciously focus more on your daily life, you can live a more purposeful and happier life. So how can you develop mindfulness and live a happy life? Read along to find out.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the momentary awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. The idea is to let thoughts, feelings, and sensations come and go without judging or having to do anything about them.
It’s about gently embracing whatever is in your consciousness right now. It’s less about reaching your end goal and more about exploring your experiences and expanding your knowledge of your inner world—the things that drive you, inspire you, hold you back, trip you up, and get you into trouble. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will understand how your thoughts, feelings, or feelings affect each other, your emotions, and the way you react to the world.
Research shows that mindfulness can change the physiology of the body and brain in ways that improve, heal, and protect. Mindfulness has many benefits, all backed by research. Here are some of them:
Reduces Stress: Mindfulness reduces physiological signs of stress and improves the brain’s ability to cope with stress. Mindfulness does this by increasing connectivity in a brain region important for attention and executive control (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex).
Restore Emotional Balance: Emotional states can throw any of us off balance. Damage comes from its intensity or duration. Mindfulness can help improve recovery from emotional situations by taking control of the emotional brain.
Increase Flexibility: Just 25 minutes of mindfulness on three consecutive days has been shown to increase resilience to psychological stress.
Reduce Anxiety: Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety by up to 38% in teens and adults. It does this through increased activity in the parts of the brain that process cognitive and emotional information, as well as the parts of the brain that control worry.
Slows Aging: Mindfulness can slow the progression of age-related cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It has been shown to increase connections in parts of the brain that activate when people remember the past or think about the future. (The greater the connectivity, the stronger this part of the brain and the better it functions.) Two hours of mindfulness a week can slow the shrinking of the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for emotion, learning, and memory).
Reduce Body Pain: Mindfulness has been shown to significantly reduce pain without activating the body’s opioid system, thereby reducing the likelihood of addictive side effects. This is important for anyone experiencing persistent physical pain, especially those developing a tolerance to opioids.
Reduce Depression: Mindfulness can reduce depression symptoms and depression recurrence. It also aids in strengthening the mental health of adolescents.
5 Simple Daily Mindfulness Exercises
How many times have you rushed out of the house and into your day without even thinking about how you want things to turn out? Before you know it, something or someone is angering you in the wrong way, and you instinctively react with frustration, impatience, or anger—in other words, you find yourself in ways you never thought possible.
You don’t have to follow these patterns. Pausing for a few minutes at different times of the day to practice mindfulness can help make your day better and more the way you want it to be.
Discover these five daily practices to bring more mindfulness into your life:
1 – Start the Day With a Goal
Intention refers to the underlying motivation for everything we think, say, or do. From the brain’s perspective, when we act in unexpected ways, there is a difference between the faster, unconscious impulses of lower brain centers and the slower, more conscious, more intelligent abilities of higher centers like the prefrontal cortex. There is a separation.
Given that the unconscious brain is responsible for most of our decisions and behaviors, this practice can help you align your conscious mind with the raw emotional drives of lower-center concerns. In addition to safety, these include motivations such as reward, connection, purpose, self-identity, and core values.
Setting an intention – keeping these initial motivations in mind – helps to strengthen this connection between the lower and higher centers. This can transform your day and make your words, actions, and reactions — especially during difficult times — more likely to become more focused and compassionate.
It’s best to do this exercise first thing in the morning before you check your phone or email.
- When you wake up, sit relaxed in your bed or chair. Close your eyes and connect with the sensations of your seated body. Make sure your spine is straight but not stiff.
- Take three long, deep, nourishing breaths – inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Then let your breath go at its own pace, and as you inhale and exhale, notice how your chest and abdomen rise and fall as you breathe.
- Ask yourself, “What is my goal today?” Use these prompts to answer this question as you think about the people and activities that will come your way. ask yourself:
- How can I show up today to make the biggest impact?
- Which mental qualities do I want to strengthen and develop?
- What do I need to take better care of myself?
- How can I be more compassionate towards others and myself during difficult times?
- How can I feel more connected and fulfilled?
- Set your intentions for the day. For example: “Today I’m going to be nice to myself; be patient with others; give generously; stay on the ground; keep up; Have fun; eat well” or whatever else you think is important.
- Examine yourself during the day. Stop, take a deep breath, and reconsider your intentions. Notice how the quality of your communication, relationships, and emotions changes as you become more aware of your daily intentions.
2 – Enjoy Every Bite
It’s easy to reduce eating to the sensation of biting, chewing, and swallowing. Who has never eaten a plate without realizing what they are doing? However, eating is one of the most pleasurable experiences we have as humans, and doing it with the mind can make eating a richer experience that satisfies not only nutritional needs but more subtle senses and needs as well. We feed all of our hunger pangs when we give our full attention to our bodies and what we crave. Try this:
- Breathe before you eat. We often go straight from one task to the next without stopping or taking a breath. By pausing, we slow down and can go about our meals more peacefully. Close your eyes, focus on the inside of your body, and begin to slowly move in and out of your abdomen for 8 to 10 deep breaths before you begin to eat.
- Listen to your body. After breathing, bring your attention to the physical sensation in your abdomen. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means you don’t feel physically hungry and 10 means you feel very hungry, ask yourself, “How hungry am I?” What physical sensations tell you when you’re hungry or not (empty stomach, trembling, reluctance to eat, stomach growling, etc.)? Try not to think about when or when you last ate and listen to your body, not your mind.
- Eat according to your hunger. Now that you know more about how hungry you are, you can be more careful about what, when, and how much you eat. This simple exercise can help you adjust to your actual needs.
- Practice a balanced diet. At your next meal, slow your breathing and keep breathing deeply. If you don’t relax, it’s not easy to digest or taste your food.
- Don’t eat if you don’t like it. Take the first three bites seriously and experience the taste, aroma, texture, and pleasure you get from a particular food. Choose carefully what you eat based on what you like.
3 – Rewire Your Brain
It’s estimated that 95% of our actions run on autopilot – what I call the “fast brain”. That’s because neural networks are the foundation of all our habits, reducing our millions of sensory inputs per second to manageable shortcuts so we can function in this crazy world. These standard brain signals are like signal highways, so efficient that they often cause us to fall back into old behaviors before we even remember what we wanted to do.
Mindfulness is the exact opposite of these processes. It’s a slow brain. It is more executive control than autonomous driving and enables conscious action, willpower, and decision-making. But it takes some practice. The more we activate our slow brain, the more powerful it becomes. Every time we do something thoughtful and new, we stimulate neuroplasticity and activate our gray matter, which is full of newly sprouted neurons that aren’t primed for a fast brain yet.
But that’s the problem. While my slow brain knows what’s best for me, my fast brain lets me take shortcuts in life. So how can we stay mindful when we need it most? This is where the concept of behavioral design comes into play. It’s a way to put your slow brain in the driver’s seat. There are two ways to do this – first, by setting up obstacles to slow down the fast brain; second, by removing obstacles in the slow brain’s path to gain control.
However, it takes some work to shift the balance and give your slow brain more energy. Here are some ways to get started.
- Stumble upon what you want to do. If you plan to do yoga or meditation, place your yoga or meditation mat in the center of the floor so you don’t miss it when you walk by.
- Update your triggers regularly. Suppose you decide to use a sticky note to remind yourself of your new intention. This may take a week or so, but then your quick brain and old habits will take over again. Try writing new notes for yourself, add variety or make them interesting so they stay with you longer.
- Create new patterns. You could try a series of “If this, then that” messages to create easy reminders to shift into a slow brain. For instance, you might come up with, “If the office door, then deep breath,” as a way to shift into mindfulness as you are about to start your workday. Or, “If the phone rings, take a breath before answering.” Each intentional action to shift into mindfulness will strengthen your slow brain.
4 – Activate Your Mind and Your Muscles
Cycling, lifting weights, sweating on the treadmill – what do these sports have in common? On the one hand, each of these can be a mindfulness practice. Regardless of the physical activity — tangoing, swimming — rather than just working out to burn calories, master a skill, or improve your physical condition, you can do it in a way that not only gets your blood pumping, but every Cell energizes your body in a way that also takes you from a feeling of preoccupation and distraction to a feeling of power and strength.
The following steps apply to all activities and will help you synchronize your body, mind, and nervous system. Doing so will improve your ability to focus all your energy on the task at hand.
- Define your goals. Make sense of your activity by consciously imagining how you want to direct your activity when you tie your shoes or put on your gardening gloves. As you get on your bike, you might say, “I’m going to take a deep breath and pay attention to the breeze, the sun, and the scenery that I’m riding past.” When you step into the pool, you might say, “I will listen to every shot and the sound and feel of the water around me.”
- Warm-up (5 minutes). Try simple movements—lifts, stretches—and focus on matching your breathing rhythm to your movements. By moving rhythmically, your brain activity, heart rate, and nervous system begin to adjust and stabilize.
- Get used to the rhythm (10 to 15 minutes). Increase the intensity, but continue to coordinate breathing and movement. If this is difficult, simply focus on breathing for a few minutes. Eventually, you will find your best.
- Challenge yourself (10 to 15 minutes). Try faster speeds, more reps, or heavier weights, depending on what you’re doing. Notice how awake and alive you feel when you exert yourself.
- Cool down (5 minutes). Slowly slow down your pace until you stop. Pay attention to how your body feels. Drink around you.
- Break (5 minutes). Calmly identify the symphony of sensations flowing in and around you. Practice naming your feelings and sensations. You can feel awake and energized from head to toe.
5 – Be Calm
Nothing triggers a “fight-or-flight” response like heavy traffic and impatient drivers. That’s why road rage flares up, stress levels rise and the reason is overwhelmed. The worse the traffic, the greater the stress. Los Angeles, where I live, has some of the worst traffic and some of the most unsafe drivers. Emotions run high, and tires squeak.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The loudest traffic jams can provide an excellent opportunity to exercise your muscles of mindfulness, increase your sense of connection with others, and restore some balance and perspective.
Here are the steps for a simple driving practice that I’ve been doing for a while. I have found that it can work wonders.
- First, take a deep breath. This simple yet profound advice will help get more oxygen into your body and widen the space between traffic stimuli and your heightened stress response. In this space, there are views and choices.
- Ask yourself what you need. Maybe you need to feel safe and relaxed at this moment, or you just need some relief. Knowing what you need brings balance.
- Give yourself what you need. When you need to relax, you can scan your body for tension (under no circumstances do anything nasty while driving) and release tension or adjust your body as needed. You can include some self-compassion phrases, such as, “May I have peace of mind, may I feel safe, and may I be happy.”
- Look around and see that all the other drivers are just like you. Everyone on the street wants you to do the same – feel safe, relaxed, and happy. You might see some drivers looking a little excited, but you might also see the driver singing or even smiling, which immediately takes the stress out of you. To all of these people you can apply what you just offered yourself by saying, “May you be comfortable, may you be safe, and may you be happy.”
- Take another deep breath. In 15 seconds or less, you can change your mood by using these simple tricks. If you’re feeling the frustration of increasing traffic, choose what you need to do and offer that condition to others. When you need to feel safe, you can say, “May I be safe, may you be safe, and may we all be safe.” Breathe in, breathe out, and you have sown the seeds of happiness.
Mindfulness takes practice and effort. Nobody is good at that in the first place. Your mind will likely wander over and over again. But with practice and patience, you will get better. Eventually, you’ll find that you can live a more focused life and enjoy benefits like reduced stress, improved mental health, improved relationships, and increased overall well-being.