What is mindfulness?
One dictionary definition is: “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, used as a therapeutic technique.” In a nutshell, it means to intentionally pay attention to the present moment. It is a very simple form of meditation, and yet it takes a lifetime of effort. It is both doing and non-doing, stillness and action.
There is no goal, since the point is not to look to the future, but to pay attention to what is happening now. It is also about acceptance with equanimity, accepting things as they are without trying to change anything, and without judgement. The goal is not to reduce stress, or to be more healthy. There is no goal, but countless benefits can be a result of daily practice.
To illustrate how simple it is, close your eyes, and just focus on your natural breathing, without trying to change it. The best place to focus is on your belly, noticing that it is rising with the inbreath, and falling with the outbreath. You can also focus on the air coming in and out of your nose, just feeling the coolness of the air, or whatever sensations you may be feeling. As you focus on your breathing, there will inevitably be thoughts that come into your mind, and you will lose focus of the breath. Even if this happens a hundred times during the meditation, every time you notice it, just gently bring your awareness back to your breathing. Every time you notice that your mind has wandered, just by noticing that this is happening, you are practicing mindfulness. You can even practice mindfulness in any everyday activity, such as walking, or washing the dishes, when you fully immerse yourself in the task. Or you can pay attention to things such as sounds around you, physical sensations, while you are eating a meal, or while listening to a piece of music. Almost any activity can potentially be a mindfulness practice.
What are the benefits of mindfulness meditation?
It creates resiliency and a greater capacity to withstand life’s ups and downs by fostering acceptance. It improves both physical and mental health. It can relieve stress, and reduce anxiety and depression. It can treat those disorders that are related to stress, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, insomnia, even endocrine disorders. It can improve the immune system. Here at Merry Clinic, we recognize how stress has a huge impact on the health of the immune system, and can greatly affect the outcome of the herbal treatments for skin disorders. By practicing mindfulness, you can decrease stress, and therefore improve the health of your skin. It can also help disorders related to the hormones, such as menopause, and PMS.
Mindfulness is widely used in hospitals, thanks to the efforts of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who in 1979 began a program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. Since then, mindfulness has become a widely-recognized practice to improve the health and quality of life for many people suffering from chronic, long-term illness. For further reading, check out Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s book entitled Full Catastrophe Living. This book gives a thorough explanation of this life-changing practice.