What is mindfulness? What are the benefits of mindfulness? Is it true it improves sleep and well-being? What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Official Mindfulness Definition By The NHS And Yoga International

According to Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, mindfulness is about “reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience” which means “waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment.”

Hence, according to Yoga International, mindfulness can be defined as the informal practice of present moment awareness that can be applied to any waking situation. In different words, it’s a way of being actively aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it.

What Is Mindfulness? A Simple Definition

Mindfulness means living in the present moment. Essentially, it means being  (intentionally) more aware and awake to each moment and being fully engaged in what is happening in one’s surroundings – with acceptance and without judgment.  

Moreover, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, mindfulness can be defined as the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.

What Is Mindfulness? A Scientific Definition

According to Davis And Hayes from Pennsylvania State University, mindfulness can be defined as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. The authors above also quote other colleagues who have also done research on mindfulness and have similar but different definitions of mindfulness, seeing it as:

– “A state of psychological freedom that occurs when attention remains quiet and limber, without attachment to any particular point of view” or

– “A psychological state of awareness, a practice that promotes this awareness, a mode of processing information, and a characterological trait”.

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Walsh and Shapito (2006) speak of mindfulness meditation as a self-regulation practice focused on training attention and awareness with the goal of bringing mental processes under greater voluntary control. Being mindful of one’s breath, for instance, is a common form of mindfulness during meditation.

What’s The Difference Between Mindfulness And Meditation?

Mindfulness and meditation are different are terms that encompass different meanings. However, they are straightly connected. While mindfulness strengthens and enhances meditation, meditation nourishes and expands mindfulness. In other words, while mindfulness can be applied to any situation at any given period, meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time. Moreover, while mindfulness means being aware and tuned with what is going on inside and around one, meditation means stop what one is doing and set aside time to try and be aware of nothing (which can also come from focusing only on something).

Common And Simple Examples Of Mindfulness

1. Mindfulness can mean being aware of your breath. Realizing the changes within your abdominal area as your body receives adapts to the inflow of air each time you inhale and exhale.

2. Focusing your attention on the food you are eating is another example of mindfulness. Fully feeling and paying attention to its temperature, its crunchiness or its flavor and not to the people eating together with you, your smartphone or your tv.

3. When you are walking, paying attention to how you are feeling is also synonymous with being full. Are you wearing a backpack that is making your back feel heavy and perhaps hurt? Are you in a rush and your heart is beating faster than if you were calmly walking? Is the street quiet or noisy, empty or filled up with people?

4. Mindfulness can be found in every action you take, as long as you make the effort to be aware of your body, your emotions, and your surroundings.

The Beneficial Effects Of Mindfulness

Mindfulness Improves Sleep

A study published at the JAMA Internal Medicine showed that older adults with sleep problems had short-term improvement in the quality of their sleep thanks to mindfulness. Moreover, another study published at the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine revealed MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) leads to improvements in sleep quality among those with breast and prostate cancer, while another study showed teenagers with a substance abuse history and sleep complaints improved their sleep too.

Keeping Your Weight Becomes Easier With Mindfulness

A study found obese women who did mindfulness practices while eating stabilized their weight. Moreover, when people are mindful of what they are eating, they seem to have less sense of struggle about controlling the food they are about to ingest.

Mindfulness Keeps Negative Thoughts Away More Easily

A study assessing college students’ daily waking movement-based behaviors found less momentary negative effect from movement with mindfulness in mind and suggested that incorporating mindfulness into daily movement may lead to better overall health benefits.

Chronic Panic Can Be Better Managed Through Mindfulness

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a therapy connecting mindfulness meditation and yoga. Studies show it significantly improves the pain of patients, as well as their anxiety and the ability to perform their daily activities with greater comfort.

Mindfulness Decreases Stress Levels

In today’s society, living in an urban area without feeling stress is a hard task. By better controlling our mind and body, it becomes easier to control stress and feel well – according to a meta-analysis of studies made by Goyal et al. (2014). Another study published at the Health Psychology journal showed mindfulness reduced the levels of cortisol (the most “famous” stress hormone) in the human body.

Mindfulness Reduces Anxiety

Studies found that mindfulness meditation can decrease anxiety and even reduce the risk of cardiovascular accidents related to moderate anxiety.

Enhanced Attention Is A Positive Consequence Of Mindfulness

According to a study published in the frontiers in human neuroscience, a quick 10 minutes meditation improves the allocation of attentional resources. Moreover, the state of art of this study showed work from other researchers finding out that long periods of meditations are linked to a greater state of attention. For instance, Elliott et al. () pointed out that a weeklong intensive meditation retreat had the potential to enhance both executive attention and alerting.

Mindfulness Brings Greater Emotional Intelligence

As the core of the practice of mindfulness is that people are aware of their feelings and emotions, mindfulness naturally comes along with a greater perception of one’s emotions and the ability to use them more wisely.

Mindfulness Today: 3 Different Ways Of Practicing Mindfulness

According to Siegel et al. (2008), there ate 3 forms by which one can practice mindfulness. The authors call them: everyday mindfulness, formal meditation practice, and retreat practices.

Everyday Mindfulness

This kind of mindfulness practice is in fact a daily reminder for us to pay attention to what is happening in different moments of our days. It means being aware of the examples of mindfulness we’ve discussed above: from tasting the food we eat to feeling the muscles as we walk or to listen to the nature that surrounds us.

Formal Meditation Practice

As we set time to go to the “mental gym” we can dedicate a part of our meditation session to practice mindfulness. By sitting in a quiet place and focusing our attention in our breath, a given object or the candlelight.

Retreat Practice Of Mindfulness

Going on “vacation” and dedicate this free time to mindfulness practices is the third option the authors provide. There can be different types of mindfulness and meditation retreats.  While some offer longer periods of formal (sitting) practice, others can bet more in walking meditations or in the repetition of specific sounds. Other types of retreat focus on remaining in silence for days to make the awareness of getting up, brushing teeth or eating easier.

Free Mindfulness Apps

Below are some of the best and free mindfulness apps available. Despite many of them being free to download and to use, accessing courses with instructors, getting notifications remembering you to dedicate some time to be mindful, downloading specific meditations or listening to them offline requires a premium version. In this way, to fully experience what these apps offer and to make the best out of them a paid subscription may be worth it.

Mindfulness At The Workplace

We go over the benefits of mindfulness meditation at the workplace at our piece: 5 Reasons Why Mindfulness Should Be Part Of Companies’ CSR Strategies

[Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash]