By Dr. Thamarai Moorthy, Registered Psychologist
We plan dinner while driving home from work. We catch up on the day’s news and send text messages while eating dinner. We replay, in our mind, a conversation we had hours earlier while talking to our spouse and folding laundry. Needless to say, we lead busy lives. However, in the rush to “get it all done” and in constantly planning for the future or thinking about the past, we miss out on the one thing that is certain in life: the present moment.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present. It has been found to be a key element in restoring a sense of balance and in achieving happiness. At its root, mindfulness involves consciously and kindly paying attention to experiences as they unfold from moment to moment. There are many ways to cultivate mindfulness, but the main goal of any technique is to achieve clarity through focused attention and to experience every moment with acceptance, curiosity, and non-judgment.
While some people can experience mindfulness when engaging in activities such as playing an instrument or hiking, it is a skill that is usually learned through guided instructions and personal practice. Meditation is a key technique used in formal mindfulness training. Sitting meditation practices (attending to breath, arising thoughts, feeling, and sensations), movement practices (yoga, tai chi, and walking meditation) and group practices (guided exercises and discussions) can allow us to refocus on the present moment.
Commitment to learning formal practices might appear daunting given our busy lives. However, it is important to consider that practices need not be time consuming to be effective. Simply pausing and becoming aware of our breathing for a few minutes or a few seconds daily can have many benefits.
A mindfulness meditation exercise:
- Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor.
- Focus your attention on your breathing.
- Breath normally.
- Every time you catch your mind wandering (and it will!), simply note where your mind has gone and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
Continue this for about two minutes. How was your experience?
Mindfulness training and mindfulness-based therapies are becoming increasingly popular in mainstream psychology and medicine. This is owed to a growing body of research that indicates that practicing mindfulness can alleviate stress, reduce chronic pain, and help manage anxiety and depression symptoms. Studies in neuroscience have also shown that practicing mindfulness has positive effects in the brain and can lead to better emotion regulation. In addition, everyday mindfulness can allow us to truly appreciate positive experiences, develop resiliency, and enhance personal relationships.
With its many benefits, mindfulness can be an invaluable ally in our busy lives. We don’t have to spend hours meditating or practicing yoga to reap the benefits of mindfulness. Ultimately, the impact comes from the frequency and consistency of practice. With commitment, mindfulness can be cultivated moment by moment.