What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice of training the mind by bringing attention to the present moment with a quality of curiosity and non-judgment. Researchers have been able to document that Mindfulness training can build both mental strength and flexibility. Our minds naturally wander, but repeatedly returning focus to the present moment strengthens the muscle of attention, cultivating longer periods of uninterrupted attentiveness.
Building mental flexibility requires the release of rumination and worry-thoughts. Mindfulness helps us observe thoughts, emotions, and sensations as phenomena that are constantly in flux. We watch the contents of our mind come and go without over-identifying or fixating on them, giving us flexibility and freedom from anxiety.
Why is it important to train our minds?
We live in an age of distraction where it’s hard to discern the signal from the noise and attend to what really matters. The constant stream of inputs vying for the precious and limited resource of our attention creates a mind like a snow globe, spinning with a constant swirl of thoughts and distractions. This can leave us feeling stressed or overwhelmed, reduce our productivity, and diminish clarity. Mindfulness practice settles the mind just as a snow globe settles, providing us with more clarity to attend to what matters most.
How does mindfulness work?
One of the ways that mindfulness practice settles the mind is through training attention. Giving the mind something neutral, or even pleasant, to attend to such as the sensation of the breath or a sound, releases the agitation that comes from focusing on worry-thoughts. Our minds and emotions settle, allowing us to be present in the current moment rather than be distracted by the worries of our busy lives.
Using the breath as the focus of our attention also benefits the stress response in our body. Intentionally breathing in a way where the exhale is slightly longer than the inhale activates the parasympathetic nervous system, settling the sympathetic system's fight or flight mechanism. Chances are, if you are living in an over-stimulated, high-stress world, your breathing tends to be shallow, which is an indicator of heightened sympathetic activity. An easy method to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is to breathe in through your nose for a count of four and exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat this a few times and notice the impact.
Tell me more about how mindfulness can enhance my everyday performance (at work, in the gym, as a parent, etc).
Not only does mindfulness practice ease our stress response, but it also helps reduce stress in our relationships, which is helpful both at home and at work. Instead of reacting with irritation or anger when overwhelmed, mindfulness practice trains us to regulate our emotions by creating a pause between stimulus and response. In this way, we shift from reacting to responding to others with a more open-minded and curious approach, even when we might be feeling upset. Research supports this way of processing emotions to enhance our everyday actions1.
Shifting from reacting to responding also benefits our fitness and health goals. Staying aware and not falling into the autopilot mode of habitual or immediate gratification behaviors is cultivated by training attention. We are better able to tame impulsive or avoidance behaviors and instead boost mental clarity and strength to align our actions with our intentions or goals.
How would you recommend I get started?
There are a few approaches you can use to begin your journey. There are many books, apps, and websites that can help you get started with your mindfulness practice. Working with a mindfulness coach can also help to guide you through the process and support your desired outcomes.
Working with a mindfulness coach can help if you have:
Lack of mental alertness
Whether your goal is stress management, increasing well-being, or cultivating focus…or maybe a bit of everything…a coach can customize practices to help you reach your mental (and emotional) fitness goals. A coach can also help you troubleshoot if distress or lack of motivation arises.
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness training and how it could assist with your specific work, family, or life circumstances, contact your Client Advocate. Lori provides Mindfulness Coaching for Apeiron Life clients and would love to chat with you about how mindfulness training can help you reach your goals!