Most of us think about sitting on a floor, legs crossed, eyes closed and listening to zen music when thinking about mindfulness. And even though it’s not everybody’s cup of tea there are loads of benefits of mindfulness.
But mindfulness doesn’t have to be practised that way. You can be mindful right after you wake up, when you eat, when you work out or even during your daily commute.
You would still apply meditating techniques but you don’t have to sit on the floor with your legs crossed. This means you can enjoy the benefits of mindfulness wherever you are.
There is no formal definition of mindfulness. mindful.org defines it as:
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.
So, the meaning of mindfulness is to be present with your thoughts and feelings. No matter what you do, you can be mindful by being present in the moment.
If you are not consciously being present in the now, your mind will start to wander and drift away. You might start thinking about that colleague at work who always talks so much or something your partner did.
Soon, those thoughts will spiral out of control and you start worrying about the future. This in return creates anxiety.
But, you see, all this is just in your head. Your mind is putting pictures into your head. Pictures which haven’t even manifested yet. But you worry about them.
Which means you are worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. Sounds silly, right? But we are all human and that’s what we humans do. It’s part of our emotions.
Mindfulness allows you to accept those thoughts. When practising for the first time many of those thoughts will come to your mind. But this is nothing to be feared or doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong.
You will soon realise that your mind wanders. Which also means you can snap right back into the present. The more you practice this process the easier and quicker it will become.
Being mindful comes with a lot of benefits. Otherwise, nobody would do it. Below are the top 9 benefits of mindfulness.
1.) It decreases stress levels
You become more aware of other people’s emotions. Thus, you are less likely of getting into conflict with them. Because you don’t immediately react to a stressful situation you have a moment to come up with a solution.
Being mindful can increase your inner strengths and hence increases your coping flexibility. Coping flexibility is defined as using a wide range of coping strategies. You might consider a stressful situation a thread whereas your neighbour doesn’t.
People get stressed for different reasons. Each person needs to use different coping strategies. Such strategies include reflection, being positive, and communication.
You don’t even have to practice mindfulness for month’s to be able to enjoy its de-stressing benefit. As little as 6 days of active mindfulness can visibly reduce stress. Read here about more tips to combat stress.
2.) It improves your sleep quality
Meditation is a very relaxing activity and often leads to sleepiness when performed lying down. Combining this effect with mindfulness is an ideal technique to cause your body’s relaxation response.
Improved sleep quality goes also hand in hand with a reduced stress level. Most of the time it’s the stress and racing thoughts that keep you awake at night.
There have been studies (here, here, and here) showing that mindful meditation can indeed improve several areas of your sleep. Improvements include sleep quality, sleep time, and ease of falling asleep.
According to one of the studies, 20 minutes per day of meditation is enough. Yet, it is recommended to practise this sitting upright when done at work to avoid nodding off.
This technique can be a great way to treat your insomnia in medication- and supplement-free way. Meditation also doesn’t have any side effects making it safe to use.
3.) It can reduce your anxiety
Anxiety and stress are not the same things. Stress can be good or bad. It can be good if it happens occasionally but then disappears and your body returns to a relaxed state.
Stress can help you push through demanding situations. But when stress never disappears and your cortisol (stress hormone) level remains constantly high stress can turn bad. Your body remains in a “fight or flight” situation and reacts with anxiety because it realises it can’t escape. Anxiety can be a result of too much stress and worst case can lead to anxiety disorder.
Mindfulness allows you to control your reactions to certain situations. By doing so it helps you to learn to accept and stay with difficult feelings.
The aim of mindfulness is not to avoid those feelings and thoughts. But rather, to accept them as they are and explore the underlying cause. If you can focus on the underlying issues of your difficult feelings and resolve those they are less likely to consume you and turn into anxiety.
4.) It can reduce depression
Still far too many people are getting prescriptions for medical antidepressants. It’s already known that they don’t work for everybody.
Benjamin Shapero, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS) told mindful.org that “Many people don’t respond to the frontline interventions.”
Alternative solutions are needed to solve depression without medication. There is growing evidence that mindfulness combined with cognitive therapy (MBCT) can treat and reduce depression.
Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, explains the reasons behind it in a short video. He reports that mindfulness helps you notice your feelings and cognitive therapy helps you to work through them. This makes it a very powerful combination.
5.) It improves decision making
Mindfulness is so powerful, professors at INSEAD have introduced it into their MBA programmes to support decision making. Mindfulness makes you more aware of your ethical principals meaning you make decisions based on those values.
When you are mindful you are considering the decision itself – Is it even necessary? By doing so you avoid making decisions which you might not be comfortable with or might regret later.
Research found that mindful people have a greater tolerance for uncertainty and are more decisive. Furthermore, they are better at separating relevant from irrelevant information. This allows them to make a clearer choice.
Harnessing this benefit of mindfulness takes time and practice though.
6.) It improves control of your emotions
Through mindfulness, you will learn to become more aware of your emotions. It is normal to have feelings like anger, sadness, happiness and frustration. Every human being experiences those feelings.
It’s how you react to those feelings that makes the difference. Mindful people see those feelings as just that – feelings. They don’t ignore them, they consciously acknowledge, identify and accept negative feelings.
By doing so, you are also increasing your emotional intelligence. Not only will you be aware of your own emotions but also of other people’s emotions. By increasing your emotional intelligence you will increase the trust in your relationships as well. You will become more resilient in challenging times and remain calm.
7.) It can improve your immune system
By reducing your stress levels (Link to 10 ways to reduce stress) you are doing good for your immune system at the same time. Recent research has shown evidence of mindfulness having the following impact:
- Significant reduction of markers of inflammation (higher level of markers points to a weak immune system)
- Increase in telomerase activity which can promote the reversal of early ageing
- Increases the number of CD-4 cells which in turn increases cell-mediated immunity
How you feel and what you do with those feelings has a big impact on your brain’s functions. It influences the chemicals signals your brain sends to your body and your immune system.
Self-proclaimed “Iceman” Wim Hof can climb mountains and only wearing shorts. He can also run a half-marathon bare feet in the snow. Wim does all that by influencing his autonomic nervous system (ANS) through concentration and meditation.
Researchers looked at Wim’s inflammatory markers and discovered they were low. This gives him a 50% lower immune response than other healthy volunteers.
8.) It can increases your ability to focus
One of the main benefits of mindfulness is its ability to focus your thoughts. Mindfulness is the antidote to a scattered mind. When you practice it you are training your mind to concentrate on one thing at a time.
It doesn’t mean that you should try and stop all thinking. Research indicates that our mind wanders half the time. This makes it even more important to learn how to focus.
In case your mind wonders, which is normal in the beginning, you can bring your attention right back to the object of your attention. Over time, this increases your ability to focus and concentrate. In stressful situations, it will prevent you from being distracted and focus on the problem at hand.
A recent study provides evidence of that. It found improvements in performance through mindfulness by reducing mind wandering of participants.
9.) It can improve your communication skills
Being mindful does not only mean meditating. You can be mindful whilst having a conversation with somebody.
Have you ever been in a meeting where people do something else on the phone not paying attention to who’s talking? Have you ever held a conversation with somebody but felt the other person wasn’t “there”? Mindful communication involves listening and speaking.
Whilst you listen you give the other person 100% of your attention. You are focusing your mind on the speaker. The aim is to listen to understand, not to reply. Don’t interrupt the other person or work on your reply.
When you do eventually reply and speak, do so in a concise, direct and specific manner. Stay on the topic and use relevant examples to illustrate your point where necessary. And always observe how the other person is reacting.
By employing this technique you will improve two things:
- Your communication skills
- Your relationships with others
Benefits of mindfulness are plentiful making it a powerful tool for everyday life. You will be able to reap some benefits after only a few days of practising.
For others, you need to spend a bit more time on it. Regardless of the time spent, there are no drawbacks in utilising this technique and it can only improve your life.
Are you practising any mindful techniques like meditation? If so, has it been helpful? Have you seen any benefits yet? Share your experience in the comment section below and sign up to my blog for weekly updates.