The complexity of our modern lives has spawned a lot of negativity in the world. No matter how successful we get, true happiness seems to allude us. Don’t you feel that the drudgery of the rat race called life is pulling you down? Well, if you do, let me tell you that you are not alone. Stress, anxiety and negativity have become an indispensable part of our lives. If you are sick and tired of all this and want to break free, stick around. I am going to take you through a journey of self-realization which has brought happiness to millions. I am, of course, talking about the practice of “Mindfulness”.
I remember reading a famous quote by notable Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore about happiness. He said, and I quote “It is very simple to be happy but very difficult to be simple.” I think he summed up the problem and offered a solution to the biggest problems of the modern world in one sentence! All the problems that we have in our modern fast paced lives stem from it being too complex. We have so many things to do, so many places to visit and so many thoughts to think. What we lack is the ability to ground ourselves and pay attention. This is where the concept of mindfulness comes in. Rather than letting our mind run amuck, mindfulness teaches us to keep it grounded. Let’s take a closer look at what this philosophy is and how can it help you be happy!
What is mindfulness?
Our complicated lives have somehow diminished our attention spans. We continually set goals and chase them with almost a relentless zeal. We seem to be almost incapable of staying in the moment and the experience. And this is the cause of all our troubles. Rather than experiencing the happiness of the moment, we set out on a race to hunt it down.
Mindfulness teaches you to live in the moment. It is a way of life that involves paying attention, on purpose at a moment. Being mindful means being present, attentive and aware of the moment so that you can experience it to the fullest.
Think for a moment, can we alter the past? Can we control the future? The answer is a resounding NO. All that we have is the present moment, and that’s it. So why ruin this moment because of something that has happened in the past or has not even happened yet? This is what is mindfulness at its very core.
It is a way of life where one accepts staying in the present moment. So, mindfulness is the stark opposite of what we do on a daily basis. Rather than chasing toward happiness, we invite the joy and experience it every single moment!
If you are mindful, you will have a greater awareness, peace, and relaxation. All of a sudden the pressures will vanish and the worries will fade away. Not only this but there are several benefits of practicing mindfulness.
There are many scientific studies involving mindfulness as well. According to a 2011 study, mindfulness has definite cognitive and psychological benefits. These advantages are not subjective observations either. The study showed that there are distinct physical changes in the brain structure.
The scientists also noted that people who were practicing mindfulness had reduced gray matter in the amygdala. It is the part of the brain that handles anxiety and stress. So, there is an actual physical evidence that practicing mindfulness can help you relax.
What are some of the benefits of mindfulness?
There are many benefits of practicing mindfulness. It has a positive impact on your mental as well as physical health. Here are some of the most prominent effects of practicing mindfulness:
- Practicing mindfulness has been shown to increase immunity. The physiological response to stress and negative emotions are also improved by practicing mindfulness.
- Mindfulness helps to improve social and family relationships.
- It reduces the horrendous trifecta- stress, depression and anxiety.
- If you practice mindfulness, you are more aware, open and agreeable. This, in turn, decreases negative thoughts and increases the happiness.
- It also improves your working memory. You have a limited amount of working memory, and if you ruminate in the past or worry about future, you use a huge chunk of it. Being mindful eliminates this usage and frees up the working memory. This increases your focus and happiness in general.
Apart from these, people practicing mindfulness are in general more compassionate and overall satisfied. All these benefits help you be more aware and happy with the moment that you live in.
How to practice mindfulness?
Well, I am sure that after reading all these benefits of mindfulness, you must be eager to learn it. The good news is that anyone can learn to incorporate this terrific tool in their life. And, it is not that difficult either. Here are some great exercises to improve your mindfulness.
What is the one thing that every one of us does day in and day out that we don’t even think about- Breathing! Right? Well, one of my favorite mindfulness exercises is mindful breathing.
To do this, all you need is a calm place free of distractions. Make yourself comfortable and get rid of all the distractions. Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and start by breathing in and out. Inhale and exhale deeply, make the cycle last for around 6 seconds. Breathe through the nose and out through the mouth.
Let all the thoughts go. Don;t think what is next or what you are going to do tomorrow or anything like that. Relax and let go of all the thoughts. Now, watch your breath go in and out. Try to focus on every breath as much as you can. I often imagine the air as energy the goes into my body through the nose, works its way around my body and dissipates back to the universe.
Do this exercise at least one minute and you will already start to feel relaxed. Trust me; I never thought that I was cut out for meditation. But guess what, doing this simple and quick exercise made me believe that I can get myself focused. If it worked for me, it would certainly work for you!
The body scan
This is another mindfulness meditation exercise that has helped me a lot. All you need to do is find a relaxing place and lie down. Now try to experience each and every sensation that your body is experiencing. Start from your head and work your way down to your feet. Rid your brain of any thoughts other than the physical sensation that your body is experiencing. Maybe there is a gentle breeze blowing on your face, or you can feel your heartbeat or your pulse. Just concentrate and try to stay at the moment for as long as you can.
The three senses
If you are a beginner, this exercise can help you greatly. It involves using your three senses- sight touch and sound. Sit in a comfortable, distraction-free place, take a few deep breathes and answer:
What are the three things that you see in the room?
What are the three things that you can hear in the room?
What are the three things that you feel?
Now the answers to these questions can be quite mundane like say, a clock or the table or the chair and so on. The key is to try and focus all your attention on the question at hand. This is a great exercise, especially for beginners.
There are many exercises for improving your mindfulness including yoga, and meditation. Although all of these have one thing in common- eliminating distractions and focusing on the present.
Some tips for beginners
Although mindfulness is a great tool, to start practicing, it is not that easy to master. Don’t worry if your mind wanders during the initial few sessions of exercises. The key is to be persistent and keeping at it. Some useful tips helped me a great deal when I started out.
- Find some time in your day where you don’t have anything to do, absolutely nothing. Watching TV or reading book or even brushing your teeth does not count. All you do in that time is just be!
- All of us tend to get distracted from the task at hand. While driving, while writing an email or while doing chores. Identify those activities and try to be more attentive during these tasks.
- Make sure that you realize that you don’t have to act, react or believe all the thoughts.
- Try to involve more senses in what you do. That way, you will be more aware of what is going on at the moment.
Mindfulness has changed my life as it has of millions of people. You don’t need any special equipment to do it, neither do you need any special training. Just try and implement some techniques that I just discussed and you will feel the difference yourself. Make sure that when you are alone or trying to focus, you don’t have any distracting things around you.
Happiness is everywhere; you don’t have to run to find it. Learn to take a moment and let it find you for a change. Once you do that, you will never be alone; happiness will find you where ever you go!