If you have been on any social media platform lately or subscribed to weekly blog posts, then you are likely to have encountered the term mindfulness more than once. One reason why mindfulness is more popular than ever is because the pandemic was a wake-up call for many people to prioritize their mental health and well-being (Antonova et al., 2021).
So, you’ve seen mindfulness pop up on your screen but what exactly is mindfulness and why is it important for your overall well-being?
The most common definition of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994): paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, in a non-judgmental way. This means intentionally bringing your attention to what is inside of you or around you and exploring these experiences with curiosity.
To be fully present is an ability we inherently have as humans. However, tuning into what is happening inside and outside of us is far from easy or natural. A big reason is because our lives are filled with distractions and our minds easily get pulled into the past, present, or future. This might look like;
Here are some examples of getting stuck in the past and future: worrying about future renovation expenses when you don’t plan on moving, beating yourself up for your boss’s feedback on your work report from last week, feeling extreme guilt for eating a box of donuts 3 days ago.
There is nothing wrong with thinking about the past or future. It helps future it helps us learn from our past mistakes and plan how to do better in the future. It becomes a problem when we get pulled in and stay stuck. When we are stuck, we tend to make decisions that do not move us toward the life we want to build.
When we practise mindfulness and stay in the present moment, research shows us a few positive outcomes:
- Improved our stress management
- Increased ability to cope with depression and anxiety
- Improved attention
- Decreased job burnout
- Improved sleep
- Increased productivity levels
- Improved memory
- Development of flexible decision-making
A common misconception about mindfulness is that we have to sit down on a yoga mat with our eyes closed and think about nothing. You don’t necessarily need your eyes closed or be sitting down on a yoga mat to be mindful. Here are some examples of what a mindful practice can look like:
- Engaging your five senses when eating your favourite food
- Focusing on the coffee or tea-making process from beginning to end
- Taking deep breaths and focusing on it when you’re overwhelmed
- Going to yoga classes with your friends
- Going on a walk and noticing your environment, your pace, your feet contacting the ground
- Laying down and focusing your attention on each part of your body
- Brushing your teeth without thinking about your to-do list
- Engaging in hobbies, like painting or knitting, without distraction
To sum it up, mindfulness can look anything like the list above or something completely different. This is because your mindfulness practice is unique to you and can be many things, as long as you are engaging with yourself or the world with intention, non-judgment, and full attention.
And just like learning any new skill, mindfulness will take time and practice. Allow yourself to fail and make mistakes along the way. And if you are looking to dive into a more formal mindfulness practice, check out our midday Mindfulness Practice on this website for free!
Antonova, E., Schlosser, K., Pandey, R., & Kumari, V. (2021). Coping with covid-19: Mindfulness-based approaches for Mitigating Mental Health Crisis. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.563417
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion
Mayo Clinic. (2022, October 11). Mindfulness Exercises . Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356
About the Author:
Christie Lim is a Master’s student in Counselling Psychology at the University of Ottawa and is completing her practicum at Uprise Psychology & Wellness under the supervision of Dr. Melisa Arias-Valenzuela, C. Psych. Christie has a strong interest for mindfulness-based interventions and leads the mid-day mindfulness sessions at Uprise.