25 Jul What Is Mindfulness?
Rebecca Jaspan, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES
The word “mindfulness” is thrown around often and the practice of mindfulness has gained popularity. What does it mean to be mindful? What does it actually mean to practice mindfulness? According to the dictionary definition, mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”. It is also “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”
While mindfulness sounds pretty straightforward, achieving mindfulness can be very challenging. We frequently move quickly throughout our day, attending to different tasks and racing thoughts. We may get caught up with what’s in our head that we lose touch with our bodies, which can lead to anxiety about the past or future. Many of us move through the world on autopilot without taking the time to notice the sights, sounds, smells, and connections around us.
Mindfulness is a tool to bring us back to the present moment, even if just for a minute, to help cope with anxiety and overwhelm that may come up in our daily lives. Mindfulness transforms how we relate to events and experiences, helping us to become less reactive and overall happier. While it may feel impossible to be mindful, just like any skill, it takes practice and we need to learn how to access it when we need it.
Why should we practice mindfulness? When we are mindful, it helps to reduce stress, enhance cognitive and physical performance, gain insight and awareness of our own mind, and increase our attention on the well-being of others.1 A goal of mindfulness is to suspend judgment of our own thoughts and feelings and unleash our natural curiosity, both about what is going on in our minds and in our bodies. You can acknowledge the thought or feeling without needing to explore it further.
There are many different types of mindfulness practices and it may take many tries for you to find what works best for you. You can be seated, walking, standing, or even moving. You can practice short pauses built into your everyday life. Or you can merge meditation practices with other activities, such as yoga, jogging, or other sports.
When first beginning the practice of mindfulness or meditating, you may get caught up in your thoughts or trying to change your thoughts. Instead, try think about meditation beginning and ending in your body. Bring awareness to your body and its internal rhythms without judgment, That in itself can be very calming. By doing this regularly, you will notice a shift from reacting automatically in a negative or unhelpful way to observing instead of reacting. This shift helps to create a pause and you can choose a more effective response.
There is no right way to practice mindfulness and you may need to try many different techniques before finding something that sticks with you. Interested in developing a mindfulness practice? Talk to your LCWNS dietitian and we can give you some tools and resources to start today.
- Hofmann SG, Gómez AF. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2017;40(4):739-749. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2017.08.008