“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers."
-Tich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Monk
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware in the present. You do not have to actually participate in a formal mindfulness (meditation) practice to be mindful, but practicing will allow you to stay more aware in your daily routine. John Kabat-Zinn is credited with bringing mindfulness to the USA. He studied Buddhism while attending MIT and discovered that practicing mindfulness, a key component in Buddhism, was great for stress reduction. In 1979 he opened the Stress Reduction Clinic at the university of Massachusetts medical school which is home to what is now called the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society. Being mindful means simply not thinking of the future or the past but thinking and feeling only about what is right in front of you. Practicing mindfulness involves realizing that you are thinking about something other than what you are doing and bringing your mind back to the task at hand. Clearing the mind is almost impossible and is not the goal of mindfulness.
Who needs Mindfulness?
In one word-everyone! Mindfulness meditation should be looked upon as a tool that we use daily, much like our toothbrush. People who suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, and other mental health issues can reap gains from a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can increase our ability to voluntary manage our emotions. In other words, mindfulness helps create the space that we need to separate our thinking mind from our feeling mind. Those who believe that mindfulness will solve all their problems, that they aren't doing mindfulness "right" if they aren't able to completely clear their mind, and who think they need to practice for long amounts of time, will often stop practicing before they even really begin. Mindfulness helps us to be able to manage our problems better-nothing can really make them disappear. While everyone should practice mindfulness meditation, keep in mind that there are many different ways to participate in meditation. You may find you are more comfortable with one technique rather than with others.
Does Mindfulness work?
Multiple clinical trials have shown the efficacy of mindfulness. The brain has neuroplasticity, meaning new connections can be formed and reorganized in response to new learning experiences. A 2012 Harvard study showed that after 8 weeks of mindfulness training participants suffering from depression had noticeable positive changes in their amygdala (the part of the brain that controls emotional responses). There are countless other studies showing the benefits, which include reduced rumination (thinking about the same issue over and over again), stress reduction, improved working memory, sharper focus, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility, and increased relationship satisfaction.