The health perks of mindfulness
With today’s around-the-clock work schedules and professional demands, you may feel like you’re being pulled in a dozen different directions 24/7 – and multitasking is the rule rather than the exception. Under these conditions, taking time to be mindful is becoming more important than ever before.
Mindfulness is a meditation technique that raises your awareness of what’s happening within you (your thoughts, emotions and sensations) and around you (sights, sounds and smells). It teaches you to notice your thoughts (not turn them off), accept them and let them pass without judgment.
The benefits of mindfulness
Rather than worrying about the past or future, mindfulness trains us to sit with our experience – to be fully present in the moment. A growing body of research suggests this can have significant physical and mental health gains. In fact, the practice is emerging as a powerful tool for corporate executives, high-powered athletes and even elementary school children.
Studies confirm mindfulness offers the following benefits:
- Improved memory
- Better focus
- Reduced anxiety
- Lower perception of pain
- Enhanced immune function
- Lower rates of depression
In addition to these health perks, mindfulness stimulates areas of the brain that are associated with positive emotions and helps you accept and cope with the things you cannot control such as a devastating diagnosis, a painful injury or the death of a loved one. And since the practice helps reduce stress and anxiety, it also improves overall health.
Become more mindful
To practice mindfulness meditation, follow these four steps:
- Breathe deep. To ground yourself, take a few moments to breathe deeply. Sit comfortably in a chair or cross-legged on the floor and begin breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can even count to five on the inhale, hold your breath for another count of five and then breathe out through your mouth for a final count of five.
- Settle in. When you return to breathing normally, notice the sensations you experience. You may feel the air moving through your nostrils or hear the sounds you make while you’re breathing. You might feel your body sink into the chair or settle into the floor.
- Notice. Throughout the practice, notice your thoughts, don’t judge them or push them away. So, instead of labeling thoughts as good or bad, simply acknowledge them, then consciously let them go. Over time, you’ll begin to recognize potentially harmful thoughts before they take hold rather than getting caught up in the wild, often untrue, stories they inspire.
- Reflect. After you complete your practice – whether it’s one minute or 20 – take some time to note any differences in how you feel. Do you feel more content? More energized? Do you feel less pain? More relaxed? Something else entirely? No matter what you’re experiencing in the moments after practice, being mindful of it may inform the rest of your day.
Mindfulness is something you can do anywhere at any time. Of course, despite the accessibility, staying present in the moment can also be mind-numbingly difficult.
The trick is to practice. Start small, with just one or two minutes each day, and build from there. The goal is simply to create more awareness in your daily life, and when you get frustrated, to shift your awareness back to your breath.
With time and patience, you’ll learn to accept what’s true in the moment. You’ll begin to approach mindfulness meditation with curiosity and without judgement. And you’ll experience the benefits of being in the moment with your experiences.
Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom is the Senior Vice President of Community Health & Equity and Chief Wellness & Diversity Officer for Henry Ford Health System and a regular contributor to the Henry Ford LiveWell health and wellness blog.
You can read more wellness advice from Henry Ford experts, including nutritious recipes, fitness tips, health news and more at HenryFordLiveWell.com, so subscribe today to get all the latest articles.