Oakville Zen Meditation

#440 Mindfulness revisited March 26th 23

   What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is paying attention purposefully without analysis, judgment, feeling, and decision, of what is happening in your mind, body, and environment in the present moment. Mindfulness is both a mind-body state and the practice of active awareness where and when you want for the purpose of just being aware.

The best analogy is to understand mindfulness as a mirror reflecting things as they are. 

In a nutshell, mindfulness is intentional awareness. Zen awareness here is different from its common meaning which is knowing  “being aware of this and that.

Through different types of mindfulness practice, we can develop a sense of decreased stress and anxiety, and a greater sense of ease and well-being.

There is always some element of mindfulness present at any moment because,

if you are aware, you are being mindful by definition but at different levels. However, true, genuine mindfulness comes when one is both aware and unattached to what is present in their mind, body, and surroundings. This is also referred to as the “egoless awareness” of mindfulness.

As Thich Nhat Hanh, known as “the father of mindfulness“To practice mindfulness is to become alive and selfless.”

Types of Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness is a basic capability of the mind. It can be practiced for a variety of reasons, and in a variety of ways ranging from spiritual to secular. Since mindfulness is always present in the mind, you can technically practice it in every moment of every day. Whether it be while drinking your morning tea during your afternoon yoga practice, or observing your breath as you meditate, or falling asleep at night, the tool of mindfulness is always available 24/7. They are 3 ways to practice mindfulness:

1) Meditation

Seated, walking, body scanning, and yoga are all beneficial mindfulness practices to center your mind and body in the present moment. 

Up to you to pick the object on which your mind will focus. This is called the anchor.

Coordinating the mind and breathing is an essential part of mindfulness in any of these meditation styles. 

2) Concentration 

In every moment of every day, we are faced with a multitude of things to observe

and to do. Our days are filled with an endless rotation of thoughts, emotions, movements, interactions, and experiences such as eating, walking, and creative work, By setting the intention to mindfully concentrate on any of these occurrences as they arise, we can naturally infuse mindfulness into our life. This is also called mindfulness on the go. Focusing on your non-dominant hand is one example among others.

This way, mindfulness becomes a natural part of life, without the need to always set aside time solely to practice it.

3) Taking a breathing-based physical pause during the day:

Taking intentional moments to pause throughout your day is one of the easiest ways to insert mindfulness into your life. Any spare moment can be used for a mindful pause. It is done by staying still and focusing on 5 to 10 slow breathing cycles.

Whether it’s taking 5 to 10 in the waiting room at the doctor, pausing to notice your emotions before sending a reactive email at work, or intentionally noticing your surroundings while driving a quick, attentive pause can greatly improve your day.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Beyond the feelings of calm, clarity, and ease mindfulness cultivates, there are a number of proven benefits to mindfulness practice. Though research on mindfulness is ever-increasing, many scientific studies have already been done on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in particular. Some of those benefits include:

Improved physical and mental resilience to chronic stress

Neuroscience research has found that mindfulness practices dampen the activity in the amygdala in the brain while increasing the connection between the amygdala ( emotion) and prefrontal cortex (cognitive function). This is called neuroplasticity.

These parts of the brain help us to be less reactive to stressors and recover more easily when stress is experienced. 

Chronic stress is known to be a major contributing factor to a number of serious health issues, making mindfulness not only a way to improve your day-to-day well-being but a viable tool for improving physical health.

Stronger personal relationships

There are a number of studies that have found a positive link between mindfulness and enhanced relationship quality. Since practicing mindfulness helps us to become more resilient to spikes in the stress hormone cortisol, we’re able to remain more level-headed when we have a conflict with someone we’re in a personal relationship with. There are even studies that suggest mindfulness makes both breakups and divorce easier.

The practice is also found to cultivate better relationships between parents and their children, with mindful parenting practices linked to positive behavior in children.

Mindfulness on psychological health:

Besides enhancing concentration skills, much research has been done linking mindfulness and meditation to better psychological health, affirming that mindfulness helps with mild to moderate depression and anxiety and emotional regulation. However, these practices shouldn’t be considered replacements for treatments for mental illness such as therapy or taking prescription drugs. Instead, you can consider them as adjuncts to other treatments, as a way to improve your general well-being.