The ever-expanding, lush world of social media and the internet have created mental, emotional and behavioral habits that tend to crowd out information coming in from our five key senses. The result is an imbalance, a feeling of the world speeding by us and a hypnotic type of disconnect.
The idea of “mindfulness,” which has blossomed in the past several years, has helped those who practice it to not only to slow down but to benefit overall health and well-being. And in this age of developing empathy and consciousness for others and the planet, engaging in mindfulness enhances those ideals and goals.
An older saying is “take time to stop and smell the roses,” meaning, put the brakes on, stop, get out, and enjoy the world that is right there, right now. Mindfulness is the embodiment of smelling those roses. Such curiosities await your discovery – entities both flora and fauna around you. (There are websites and apps dedicated to identifying species of each, such as this one for budding etymologists, and this one for plant lovers).
The definition of mindfulness is, “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just have to learn how to access it.”
And, according to this same source – mindfulness “is a way of living,” as it is more than simply a practice, like jogging to keep in shape.
Ruth A. Baer, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky developed the landmark analysis tool, The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) -- a self-help and self-scorable measurement on the five aspects (or facets) of mindfulness:
- observation: noticing and/or attending to stimuli (both external and internal)
- description: taking time to identify, label or otherwise note the stimuli
- aware actions: attending to your current actions and state, as opposed to being or doing absent-mindedly;
- non-judgmental inner experience: not tagging or evaluating, e.g., self-judging your thoughts, emotions and sensations
- non-reactivity to that inner experience: refraining from harnessing, entrapping and/or changing that inner experience.
In other words – stop, let yourself be, let the inner or outer “it” be.
Isn’t it another word for “meditation?” Yes and no. Mindfulness incorporates meditation, a practice involving deep slow breathing and focus that can reduce anxiety, balance mood, enhance attention span, improve sleep quality and duration, and even help manage pain. An earlier published study by the same lead author found that “meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms that alter the construction of the subjectively available pain experience from afferent information.”
It can also lower blood pressure, and researchers in a new study was inspired to try to figure out why. They believe that one of the primary mechanisms may be the stimulation of the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system by paced breathing, and this reduces the release of stress chemicals in the brain while also increasing vascular relaxation – resulting in reducing blood pressure.
Meditation may also be useful for individuals with ADD/ADHD.
An expert in ADHD, Dr. Lidia Zylowska, head of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, said that mindful awareness practice “teaches you to pay attention to paying attention.”
One study investigated the effects of mindfulness training in adolescents aged 11-15 with ADHD for 8 weeks; this trial also included parental training in mindfulness. The researchers concluded, “Our study adds to the emerging body of evidence indicating that mindfulness training for adolescents with ADHD (and their parents) is an effective approach, but maintenance strategies need to be developed in order for this approach to be effective in the longer term.
One distinctive study looked at the links between practicing mindfulness and the anxiety that stems from waiting or anticipating. The study of students waiting results of their bar exam, found that during the fourth-month waiting period those who participated in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week were able to post-pone “bracing,” a term for preparing for the worst. This study was the first to identify a strategy that helps people in stress-filled waiting situations to cope much better. And, said the authors, “it also shows that even brier and infrequent” mindfulness can be beneficial.
No matter how you practice it, getting into the habit of mindfulness will improve your mental, emotional and physical quality of life. It is a tool you can use as often as you wish and gets easier to do with time. It costs nothing but only gives!