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How to Practice Mindfulness

A woman sitting at her desk with her arms crossed and eyes closed practicing mindfulness meditation.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. By incorporating a few simple mindfulness techniques into your daily routine, you can begin to reduce your stress and increase your happiness.

When you take the time to recognize the small things, you can see life from a different perspective. Concentrating on each moment as you live it and consciously focusing on your state of mind, you can help alleviate routine stress. 

Making an effort to do nothing in the moment and rest your attention on yourself can be difficult, but can help lessen daily worries. During this time for yourself, pay attention to your feelings and let them pass. The key to mindfulness is accepting feelings of stress and anxiety and working toward future goals.

Mindfulness and Mental Health

You don't have to be stressed or overwhelmed to practice mindfulness, although it's proven to be an effective tool for reducing both. If you're one of the 40 million adults that suffer from stress and anxiety per year, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) promotes mindfulness as a technique for growth, self-discovery and success. 

One in 13 people globally suffers from anxiety, according to the ADAA. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders worldwide. Nearly half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs assist people with stress, anxiety, depression or pain. It's an approach to mindfulness, which trains attention, helping people to cultivate awareness and therefore enabling them to have more choices and take wise action in their lives, which reduces stress.

Mindfulness is a lifestyle choice that isn't instantaneous. In time, regular mindfulness practice can have positive results in your life.

What is Mindfulness Meditation and Mindfulness?

Mindfulness and meditation are two sides of the same coin. They complement and overlap each other. Mindfulness teaches you how to become aware of what's going on in the present moment. A key to mindfulness meditation is recognizing emotions or situations without any positive or negative judgment. When you observe rather than judge, you can be more purposeful in what you say and how you say it.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is focused around being present in any moment, at any time. It's the human ability to be aware of where you are and what you're doing, and not overstimulated by what's going on around you. Mindfulness meditation is a starting point to learn how to practice mindfulness effectively.

The concept of mindfulness dates back to Greek and Buddhist psychology, according to The International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory. Both psychologies commonly describe mindfulness as the centrality of human experience. Mindfulness is the root of consciousness, attention and awareness. To be mindful, you must pay attention to your surroundings, then place awareness on how you feel in your surroundings and lastly, train your consciousness to not place judgment in that present moment. 

A Guide to Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a tool for practicing mindfulness. Meditation helps anchor your breath and focus your attention on your thoughts. It encompasses the practice of reaching desired consciousness and concentration to self-regulate the mind. There are different reasons why people meditate: to feel calm, to dismiss stress or pain, or spiritual practice.

Leila Samii, assistant professor of marketing at Southern New Hampshire University, starts her lectures every day with an optional 5-minute mindful meditation for her students. Samii guides the meditation and typically asks the students what type of meditation they need for the day; for example, focus, creativity, distress or energy. “Typically, college learners don't have much time for themselves,” she said. "I hope to provide them the tools to cope with constant connection and typical college stressors." 

Before beginning mindful meditation, it's valuable to set goals to focus on intention and attention throughout the meditation. Samii describes these three focal points as the key to mindfulness:

  1. Before starting the day, Samii writes out an intention for the day. Whether it's focusing on positivity or self-care or laughing more, she allows herself to focus on one thing that helps her well-being.
  2. An important part of mindfulness meditation is to stabilize yourself and relax. Find a comfortable place, have a soft gaze to the ground, follow your breath in and out, and if your mind wanders, try to bring it back to your breath.
  3. Attention is a difficult part of mindfulness because it determines if you are present in the moment. Once you can practice bringing your attention to the present moment - your productivity, quality and condition of work can increase.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Charles A. Francis, co-founder and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute and Jeffrey Santee, a psychologist and mindfulness instructor, outlined how to practice mindfulness to improve overall well-being.

Start Small

Starting small means taking 5 minutes out of your day and dedicating it to yourself. These 5 minutes can bring a new perspective, positivity and calmness to whatever stress is weighing down on you. Find a conference room, bedroom or park bench and consider this your "sacred place" to come and focus on yourself.

Notice When Your Attention Wanders

It's common for your mind to wander when you first start to meditate. "Don't get angry or impatient; it's common, especially in the beginning. Just be aware of when that happens," Santee said. Sensations, impulses and thoughts play out in your mind that may draw your attention away from your breathing. By bringing your attention back to it, you are training your mind to be less reactive and increasing your ability to concentrate.

Fit Mindfulness Into Your Lifestyle

Francis suggested finding the best time for mindfulness practice within the normal flow of your day. This way, mindfulness doesn't seem like a chore, but something you want to do. Pick a space to call your own where you feel more comfortable can create a more relaxed environment to start meditating. 

Be Open to Change

It's easy to be very critical and judgmental throughout the day, even unintentionally. Being open to trying new things and thinking a different way can open the door for a new way of life. Change can lead to progress, making some of your everyday tasks more manageable.

4 Benefits of Mindfulness

Some research has shown that mindfulness practices can have positive impacts on mental health. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, focuses his research on health psychology and neuroscience to understand mental health. His mindfulness research shows that practicing mindfulness can reduce anxiety and depression by concentrating on mindful well-being. 

A study conducted by Daphne Davis and Jeffrey Hayes at Pennsylvania State University to research the benefits of mindfulness to consider it as a successful treatment. Some of the Davis and Hayes' findings include:

  1. Emotional Regulation 
    There's evidence that mindfulness helps develop effective emotional regulation in the brain. Davis and Hayes found mindfulness meditation can promote awareness of your thoughts and enhance your focus to promote healthy emotional regulation. 
  2. Positive Interpersonal Behavior
    The study showed that mindfulness can help improve relationships because it helps you learn how to respond better to stress. You can better communicate your feelings and emotions to show more compassion for others. 
  3. Increase Response Flexibility
    Mindfulness meditation enables people to become less reactive and have greater cognitive flexibility. During meditation, subjects from this study showed a higher ability to self-observe to create more adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations.
  4. Self-insight, Morality and Intuition 
    According to the study, mindfulness can enhance functions associated with the middle prefrontal lobe area of the brain, which control self-insight (in other words how you see yourself), as well as morality and intuition. Balancing this part of the brain gave subjects in the study the ability to look deeper into themselves to find their true values.

Mindfulness in the Classroom 

Samii's journey to mindfulness education started when she heard statistics about teenagers delay in certain activities. Through teaching social media, she observed how students are always connected with text messages, Facebook notifications and social media engagement. She determined the counter to this issue is having the ability to realize the problem in that present moment, put down the distractions and focus on the tasks at hand to reduce the amount of stress students are put under.

Samii was trained through the Koru Institute, which focuses on teaching college-aged students mindfulness, and attended the Google Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute that trains mindful leadership and emotional intelligence tools. She devotes a portion of her teachings to mindfulness education and meditation to help students make wiser decisions, regulate emotions and be more fully engaged in life.

This past May, a 2-day Business of Mindfulness conference was held on the SNHU campus. Samii and a team of 20 set out to share the importance of teaching mindfulness in business into one learning environment for SNHU faculty and staff.

"The goal of the conference was for everyone to learn tools for work/life balance, stress reduction, collaboration, and implementation to bring more happiness into their lives to better help their students," Samii said.

As a practice that has been around for centuries, mindfulness has been proven as a tool to reduce stress. It can be a powerful way to strengthen your mind, body and spirit.

Joanne Coffey is a graduate marketing student at SNHU. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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