Mindfulness is more than just a trendy buzzword – it’s a form of meditation that has been practiced for thousands of years by people from all walks of life. Mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress levels, relieve feelings of intense anxiety, and even help those who have experienced trauma. The art of practicing mindfulness focuses on the acceptance of one’s own present experiences, free of self-loathing or judgment. Easier said than done, right? While the concept is simple on paper, it’s hard to know where to begin. Here at Now With Purpose, we’ve compiled some starting points that can help begin your mindfulness journey with your best foot forward.
A Brief History
While mindfulness has become a popular colloquialism with the rise of mental health awareness and advocacy within the last decade, the meditation-based practice isn’t a new concept by any means. Now that we’re talking about mental health more openly than we ever have, it’s time to dive into the things that help us all cope. And while mindfulness has been a “thing” for thousands of years, it lost its religious and spiritual ties in the late 1970s, when practicing Buddhist and molecular biologist Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn created a wellness program titled Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR for short.) While Kabat-Zinn did incorporate some of his Buddhist beliefs into the early practice of MBSR, mindfulness today has no religious or spiritual ties. The 8-week program had tremendous results, reflecting reduced levels of stress and anxiety within all participants. From there, mindfulness transformed over time into what we know the practice to be today – a popular form of meditation, a technique used in life coaching, and even a modality of therapy that mental health clinicians globally use to help their clients.
Why The Hype?
At this point, you might be wondering what all the hype around mindfulness is about. What sets mindfulness apart from other forms of meditation? Can anybody practice it? Do I need a yoga mat?
The benefits that can come from practicing mindfulness seem endless when diving into recent studies and research from mental health clinicians around the world. From reducing levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, to aiding those suffering from a traumatic event, mindfulness has proven an effective therapy tool in many different areas of mental health. A study conducted with veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2018 by the National Center For Biotechnology Information revealed that practicing mindfulness reduced their PTSD symptoms 73% of the time. This alone is a huge win for those suffering from the aftermath of trauma and PTSD symptoms.
As far as depression, a study conducted by Dr. Willem Kyuken in 2015 revealed results showing that undergoing mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) helped his patients lessen their recurring bouts of depression just as effectively as an antidepressant did.
“People at risk for depression are dealing with a lot of negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about themselves, and this can easily slide into a depressive relapse,” explained Dr. Kuyken in an interview with Forbes. “MBCT helps them to recognize that’s happening, engage with it in a different way, and respond to it with equanimity and compassion.”
Apps: A Starting Place
Guided meditation has been hot on the media market for quite some time. From tapes to audio files, to YouTube videos, our world is filled to the brim with resources in our age of digital media. Now, you can bring a host of mindfulness materials with you wherever you go, all stored on your phone. Meditation apps are on the rise, offering a myriad of mindfulness-based exercises and guided meditations to help you wherever you are, whenever it may be – all from the convenience of your smartphone.
Headspace, an app available for both iOS and Android, markets itself as “your personal guide to mindfulness.” The app walks you through the basics, caters to your specific needs and goals, and tracks your progress as you complete various meditation exercises. For $12.99 a month, and your first week free, the app has over 1 million active subscribers and continues to release new content every day, so you’ll never run out of ways to find your center. Headspace even offers guided meditations for sleep to help you reach a calm state of mind before you hit the lights.
And if you’re looking for even more ways to fall asleep mindfully, check out Calm – a meditation app with a mission statement to help its users “sleep more, stress less, live better.” It’s been ranked by app stores as the #1 app for sleep and meditation and was awarded App of the Year by Apple in 2017. Calm’s monthly subscription fee is the same as Headspace, and a free trial period for new users is available as well.
Find What Works For You, And What You’re Working Towards
When it comes to mindfulness-based exercises, you won’t know what works for you until you try. For some, breathing exercises can help to relieve bouts of anxiety in the moment. For others, counting back from 10, and taking account of one’s surroundings by using all five senses will make them feel more grounded and present. Taking the time to try different techniques, along with different types of meditation guides will help you discover what works best. And with that, it’s important to map out what exactly you want to get out of practicing mindfulness. Do you want to reduce your overall stress levels? Are you seeking to stay more present and open in your day-to-day life? Whatever the reason may be, identifying your goals will speak your truth into the universe.
But the most important virtue to remember when dipping your toes into the world of mindfulness is one of the biggest lessons we can all take from the practice of mindfulness itself: be open, non-judgmental, and most importantly, present.
Photo: Pedrocastillo09 via Wikimedia Commons