Mindfulness in Our Daily Lives
Chances are, even as you’re reading this, your mind is drifting to another place—off to the world of planning, worrying, regretting, reminiscing, or judging. You may be running through the errands of the day, thinking about an upcoming deadline, wondering if what you told XYZ hurt them, or mulling about what to have for dinner. A sign that you need some mindfulness in your life.
What is mindfulness?
Very simply, the practice of keeping the mind in the present moment is mindfulness. Though the idea of being aware of the vastness of the present is not new, the concept has been popularized in the modern times by Vietnamese monk and Zen Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. Art of Living founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Mindfulness is meditative awareness. When you are mindful, there is a sudden shift within you. From the scenery, you move towards the seer. It is taking your attention back to yourself.”
For example, when you are watching an interesting movie, you probably find yourself going through the emotions—experiencing the joy, grief, fear, confusion or anger—along with the characters. You’ve become completely immersed in the movie playing out on the screen. Mindfulness brings our awareness back to the present moment, back to yourself.
While our modern lives call for multitasking and the need to be in multiple places at once, over time that can be incredibly draining on our productivity. Lack of mindfulness can cause increased levels of mental stress, unhinged worrying, fatigue—all of which have a bearing on our body and mind. Stress is a common and serious risk factor for multiple lifestyle disorders today including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, mood disorders and chronic inflammation, among others. But going beyond the physiological effect, it is difficult—if not impossible—to be truly happy and joyous from within if we do not practice mindfulness in our lives. It allows us to live our lives more fully and in the moment, instead of constantly chasing material and aspirational goals that you have no time to really experience the joys of.
Benefits of Mindfulness
1. Keeps Stress at Bay
Stress is created in our mind-body complex when the mind spends too much in the past or the future. The mind may experience regret or glorify the past causing insecurity or fear about the future. But there is complete joy available to us in the present moment. Research has shown that mindfulness may reduce the physiological symptoms of stress that can lead to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, rise in blood glucose levels, fatigue, inflammation, and neurological diseases, among others.
2. Manages the Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Overthinking, chronic stress, and trauma are just some causes of anxiety and depression. Being mindful of one’s thoughts and emotions and having a daily mindful meditation practice can help reduce these symptoms. Seeing things as they are in the present moment and quieting the mind and body can bring about transformative changes physically and mentally.
3. Enhances Cognitive Abilities
Mindfulness meditation has proven to be an important catalyst in improving multiplying cognitive skills. A study published in Consciousness and Cognition Journal recorded that the group practicing mindfulness showed reduced fatigue, increased memory, and retention as some of the keys benefits.
4. Good for the Brain
Mindfulness significantly affects the brain. It lessens the painful experiences and enhances thoughtful responses. It induces relaxation response by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.
5. Helps Manage Pain
Chronic pain can drain physical and mental energy, and painkillers come with their own side effects. Meditation and breathwork are effective non-invasive pain management tools.
6. Maintains Overall Wellness
When the body is not continuously under attack from stressful risk factors, and there is mindful eating and living being practiced, the immunity remains high and overall well-being is more easily achieved.
7. Improves Efficiency and Quality of Life
Being completely mindful in any activity, not only results in less errors, but it also helps you get more done in less time. Mindfulness leads you to live in a state where disciplined lifestyle practices come naturally to you and anything that is not life supportive is discarded by our body and mind, thus vastly improving our quality of life.
8. Improved Work-Life Balance
Increased productivity means more time available and improves work life balance.
9. Increases Acceptance
Mindfulness increases acceptance towards every moment, emotion, feeling, or thought. Accepting this moment as it is reduces stress and brings peace. One can make better decisions in the state of complete acceptance. This can bring result in behavioral changes and improved relationships.
Mindfulness vs. Meditation
Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably—both share a common goal of bringing the mind to the present moment. While mindfulness has this as its core focus, it is also one of the many outcomes of meditation. Mindfulness is about concentrating or focusing on the breath, body, thoughts, mental or physical activities, and/or surroundings. Meditation is about letting go and de-concentration. Both improve the quality of life.
Mindfulness can be practiced anytime while doing any activity. It is a skill which ideally should be practiced at every moment. Beginners can follow a few instructions till they get into the groove of it. With regular and continuous practice, one starts living in mindfulness under all circumstances.
Try this 10 minute mindfulness exercise.
- Sit in a comfortable corner with clean and quiet surroundings.
- Keep the spine straight, but not too strained; body relaxed.
- Place hands on the knees or thighs with palms facing the ceiling.
- Become aware of the body. Take the attention to the body, observe if there is strain, tension or sensations anywhere in the body.
- Focus on the breath. Observe how the breath is flowing through the nose to the stomach and back out of the nose.
- Continue to keep the focus on the breath for 10 minutes. The moment you become aware of thoughts (or distracts) bring the attention back to the breath.
When the focus is on the breath, the mind comes to the present moment. After a few days of the practice, you can begin observing everything that happens inside and outside. The practice will facilitate this state of observance. Just be aware of your emotions, feelings, or thoughts. Do not engage with them or try to stop them—being aware is the key.
Eventually, the point is to extend mindfulness to every moment in the day. It should be practiced while walking, eating, working—any task during the day.
Techniques That Bring About Mindfulness
In general, any meditation practice can promote mindfulness, but there are few techniques which can bring instant results –
SKY or Sudarshan Kriya Yoga
This is a powerful breathing technique cognized by global spiritual master and founder of the Art of Living, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, that is being practiced by more than 450 million people. The technique finds its uniqueness in a specific rhythmic breathing pattern combined with pranayam taught by trained teachers.
Practitioners of the technique find it extremely beneficial in calming the mind and a strong catalyst in deepening mindfulness. It makes mindfulness as a phenomenon easy to practice every minute in life.
Focus on the Breath
Breath has a direct connection with the mind. The pattern of our breath changes with changing emotions. Focus on the natural flow of breath for a couple of minutes and then take a few deep breaths. This can heighten awareness. Mindfulness on the breath instantly brings the mind to the moment.
Yogic exercises cleanse the body and calm the mind. The very unique aspect of yoga asanas is the fact that breath and body movements are synchronized mindfully. This enhances mindfulness and makes it a spontaneous happening. The attention from the breath and body may keep shifting, but bringing it back again and again is the key. This practice increases the lifeforce energy. So practicing it in the morning is very beneficial for a productive day ahead.
To practice Tratak—which means gaze or look in Sanskrit—the gaze is fixed on a stationary point. This instantly brings our monkey mind to the moment. Regular practice of this sharpens the eye sight and brings mindfulness. The gaze can be fixed on the yogic symbol Om, or a candle flame, or picture of a deity. Begin with a few minutes, gradually increasing time until your eyes start to water. Then, close your eyes. The mind’s image of the object of gaze should be focused on for a few minutes.
Body Scan Meditation
Body scan is an easy and quick way to relax the body. A healthy body is the basis for enthusiasm, increased efficiency, and ability to handle multiple tasks with equal perfection. The focus here is on reducing the stress and tension from the entire body by just taking attention through it.
Guided meditations make the practice easy. All you need to do is sit comfortably and follow the instructions. For best results, it is recommended to be done before meals or three hours after eating. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has many popular guided meditations available on YouTube. Here is one of our favorites, Breath of Relaxation.
We are an inseparable part of nature. Being close to nature keeps us healthy and mentally grounded. It elevates the spirit and nurtures compassion for other creatures. Walk silently in a garden or any place surrounded by nature’s bounty—trees, mountains, sky, birds. Walk mindfully while paying total attention to the footsteps and all the life around you—don’t talk to anyone, listen to music, or use your phone.
Mindfulness in Every Activity
Mindful eating, drinking, walking, listening to music—basically performing all our duties mindfully, also helps in intensifying the practice. Begin gradually with any one activity. For example, chew each morsel of food mindfully when eating, or sip tea with total attention on the act of drinking.
Take Short Breaks
On busy days, it becomes even more imperative to take a few minutes to yourself, to save yourself from feeling drained, lethargic, and stressed. You can take short mindfulness breaks, which could include practices like yoga nidra (yogic sleep) or focusing on your breath. This rejuvenates your body and mind, fills you up with prana. It can also clear your head of doubts, grudges, disappointments, worries and stress accumulated from the morning.