Thinking comes naturally to us. Sometimes we think “happy thought,.” and sometimes not so happy thoughts. Often, we’re thinking about some future event; maybe we’re worried or concerned. Sometimes, we’re thinking about something in the past, a regret or even a great memory. When we find ourselves getting caught up in our thoughts, it’s a healthy choice, for body and mind, to take a break from our wandering thoughts and bring our focus back to the moment at hand.
And that’s what we mean when we talk about “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is, put simply, concentrating your attention on the here and now. And it’s not just something for yogis meditating on mountaintops; mindfulness is something that everybody can practice and gain real, tangible health benefits from.
Practicing mindfulness can offer all sorts of benefits. There is growing evidence to suggest that practicing mindfulness can improve the quality of sleep. In one study, “The Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Sleep Disturbance: A Systematic Review,” researchers found that, “there is some evidence to suggest that increased practice of mindfulness techniques is associated with improved sleep and that MBSR participants experience a decrease in sleep-interfering cognitive processes (eg, worry).”
Mindfulness can also help people dealing with anxiety or depression. By keeping our focus on the present moment, and away from dwelling on things that can generate anxious feelings, we can help to improve our overall mood and keep ourselves motivated.
And there are numerous other benefits, from improved concentration to even maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
Here’s a quick and easy way to start:
Pay attention. Take in the moment; the moment without — the sounds you hear, the things you see, and the sensations you experience; and the moment within — pay attention to your breathing, pay attention to the thoughts that arise, and observe your feelings and emotions as they rise and subside.
As you do this, breathe in deeply and slowly, and begin to focus on your breathing. You’ll feel calmer almost immediately. The science on this very simple exercise says that it should produce a calming effect fairly quickly.
Do the above exercise three times a day for 5-20 minutes. But the more you practice mindfulness, something you can do wherever you are, the more mental and physical health benefits you’ll begin to see.