The word “mindfulness” has become very popular over the past few years. A quick Google keyword search finds about 58,400,000 sites–everything from how to learn mindfulness, business applications, links to books and exercises, organizations, professionals specializing in mindfulness…the list goes on. Companies such as Google, General Mills and Target have created mindfulness meditation programs for their employees to help them deal with stress and improve their health and productivity.
Advertisers have jumped on the bandwagon and are linking mindfulness practice to their clients’ products to encourage sales…and they can be subtle.
This two-minute commercial was made for and funded by a mindfulness app called Calm. While it appears to be a ‘non-commercial’ commercial–providing a relaxing break from usual advertising–it’s not. The Calm app, while free to download and try, costs $9.99 for a monthly subscription or $39.99 for a year. Mindfulness can be big business!
What is Mindfulness?
While the term “mindfulness” or “mindfulness meditation” may be everywhere in popular culture, what does it really mean? Mindfulness began as an ancient Buddhist practice that has been adapted for modern use. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life, describes mindfulness as “awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
There are different ways to practice mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn explains, “There are two complementary ways to [practice mindfulness]: formally and informally. Formal practice means engaging in making some time every day to practice–with tools such as guided meditations. Informal practice involves letting the practice spill over into every aspect of your waking life in an uncontrived and natural way.”
In other words, being ‘mindful’ means taking time to ‘be in the moment’ and notice what is happening. If you are washing the dishes, then you’re washing dishes–take the time to see the wet dishes, feel the water on your hands, experience the weight of the bowl as you place it on the drying rack.
It’s called “practice” because it is something that we commit to doing over and over again–and it’s impossible to do it incorrectly. The benefit is in showing up!
Benefits of Mindfulness Practice
So what are the benefits of mindfulness practice? In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) clinic at the UMass Medical School. The program teaches Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness meditation techniques to individuals coping with a variety of physical and mental health challenges.
Over the past almost 40 years the program has been the subject of research by the Medical School to determine MBSR’s effectiveness. In short, the results have been amazing, as people meditating for as little as a few minutes per day have seen a decrease in their symptoms and an increase in the effectiveness of their medications. In some cases, patients have been able to lower and stop taking their medications. If you would like more information about the program and research, check out the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the UMass Medical School.
Personally, and in my work with clients, I have discovered the benefits of practice as a way to lower stress and anxiety levels. Clients have reported that they feel less reactive to difficult people and situations. When I teach the breathing exercises in sessions, clients report that they feel more relaxed and are willing to continue to do the exercises between our meetings.
A Mindfulness Exercise
Curious? Want to try? Here’s a mindfulness exercise that can give you a quick taste of the experience. It all starts with chocolate! To begin, have a small piece of chocolate (or your favourite treat) in front of you.
- Stand (or sit) still and feel yourself breathing. Listen to the sounds around you.
- Slowly pick up the piece of chocolate. Feel your hand as it makes contact with the candy.
- Look at the chocolate. Notice the colour, texture, size, shape. Feel the weight.
- Pay attention to any thoughts that are arising about the chocolate.
- Note any feelings that you are experiencing.
- If wrapped, slowly unwrap the piece of chocolate. Feel the texture of the wrapping. Listen to any sounds that the wrapping makes.
- Slowly put the chocolate in your mouth. Pay attention to the taste. Feel the texture.
- Hold the chocolate in your mouth. Enjoy the taste and the sensation of the chocolate.
- When you are ready, swallow and feel the chocolate as it slides down your throat.
- Stand still and feel yourself breathing as you rest for a moment.
The idea of informal practice, is to bring the awareness you felt in this exercise to other activities in your life.
Formal Mindfulness Practice
Formal mindfulness practice involves discipline, and as already mentioned, the value is in showing up. As with any new activities, I recommend you give it a try for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference in how you feel and interact with others. Discover if it lowers your stress levels.
If you would like to try a type of formal practice, here’s a link to a guided meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The meditation lasts approximately 20 minutes. Be aware that there are long stretches of silence during the 20 minutes while you are following the directions. Enjoy!