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You’ve probably overheard multiple conversations and news snippets about mindfulness. This ancient practice promises to be the ideal solution to many problems. Is it right for you? Does it matter for everyone?
The short answer to the second question is yes. The very thing separating human beings from other life forms on earth is their ability to reflect and turn inward, analyzing and synthesizing life events to extract a deeper meaning and message. Neuroscience confirms that seeking this purpose for existence is necessary for mental health, and what happens in your brain often affects your body.
How can meditative practices help you? Here’s why mindfulness is important and four reasons you should embrace it in your life.
It Helps You Listen to and Heal Your Body
When was the last time you snapped at a loved one for no reason other than a headache making you sensitive and miserable? Nearly everyone is guilty of getting grumpy when sick, but we’re often so out of tune with what’s happening inside our bodies that we might not even recognize the reason behind our irritable moods.
Interoception refers to your sense of how you feel within your body. It occurs thanks to neuronal receptors deep inside your organs and tissues. They clue you into vital health alerts — for example when you get thirsty or hungry.
One of the best ways to check in with your body is by performing a body scan. It’s wise to find a quiet place to sit or lie down the first few times you complete this exercise, but you can do it anywhere once you get in the habit. It can clue you into physical pain that could unwittingly affect your mental state:
- Breathe: Begin by focusing awareness on your breath. It helps to follow a 5-5 pattern, inhaling for a 5-count and exhaling the same length.
- Close your eyes: It’s easier to tune into your external world when you block outside stimuli.
- Begin at your toes: Sense each one in turn. Feel the tops of your feet and your soles.
- Continue working up your body: Move to your ankles, your lower legs and your knees, checking in with each body part. It helps to breathe into each area to help it relax.
When you find a tense or tight area, spend a few extra moments visualizing yourself, sending healing energy to the achy region. You might also try progressive relaxation, where you clench and then relax various muscles, in turn, to help release knots.
It Can Calm Your Body and Mind
You aren’t alone if you first heard of mindfulness on the therapy couch. You might have even participated in mindfulness therapy. This treatment modality focuses on awareness of your thoughts and the external circumstances and situations influencing them nonjudgmentally.
Mindfulness is important for mental health because it helps pull you out of anxiety spirals about an uncertain future. It can also interrupt ruminating on the past, which often contributes to depression. By focusing on what’s happening in the here and now, you can gain clarity and choose the best response instead of reacting blindly, often in maladaptive ways that make your situation worse.
However, you don’t need health insurance or hundreds of dollars for couch sessions to reap the mental health benefits of mindfulness. You can practice techniques throughout your day, from anywhere, to get back in touch with the here and now. Try one of the following exercises the next time you feel overly stressed.
Boxed breathing is a fabulous technique employed by the U.S. Navy SEALS, and you can benefit from it, too. In this method, you inhale for a 4-count, pause for four seconds, then exhale for the same length before pausing with your lungs empty before inhaling.
You’ll find oodles of online articles about how to mindfully eat a raisin, but you can do the same with any food, like chocolate. Before you open your treat, take a second to observe the feel, color and texture. Sniff a small corner before you take a nibble and let it melt on your tongue. Tune into how your body feels as you enjoy your snack — what sensations do you experience?
You don’t need a sacred spiral — you can mindfully walk anywhere. As you stroll, pay attention to how your feet and legs feel as they strike the earth with each stride. Notice how your entire body gets into the motion. Tune into your five senses: what can you see, feel, hear, smell and taste? How do your respiration and heart rate change as your walk progresses?
It Puts You in the Driver’s Seat
A sense of agency is also vital to your mental health, and mindfulness can help you cultivate one. Agency refers to the deep core belief that your actions can influence your world — you aren’t a helpless victim of circumstance. It’s easy to fall into despair if you feel like nothing you do makes a difference.
So often, people react according to their default mode network. That’s an ingrained pattern of behavior formed over years that occurs as an automatic response to a specific stimulus — think of Skinner and his rats. For example, your knee-jerk reaction after a difficult day at the office might be to come home and pour a drink. However, doing so can lead you to a substance abuse disorder if you aren’t careful.
Mindfulness helps you respond instead of react. You begin by building awareness of your default reactions. Then, you evaluate them. Do they help or make the situation worse? If the latter, how can you change that behavioral pattern? Please make no mistake — this technique takes a lot of hard work and introspection. However, you can develop healthier automatic responses with time and take pride in knowing you took control and are in the driver’s seat of your life.
It Brings Greater Joy to Daily Life
There’s more to focusing on the here and now than lessening anxiety. When was the last time Sunday night arrived, and you realized the entire weekend had passed you by like a flash? Staying in the present moment means you can savor life’s richness and fully appreciate your time.
So often, human beings experience too little joy in life because they don’t pause to revel in the little things. Think about the last time you ate a delicious slice of pizza while sitting at your work computer. You might not have enjoyed a single bite. Mindless snacking isn’t good for your psyche nor kind to the chef who poured love into your meal — especially if said cook was you.
The next time you sit down for dinner, make love to your spouse, heck, even watch a movie on TV, tune out outside distractions. Immerse yourself fully in the experience. You’ll enjoy it far more and develop your relationships with the ones you love most, which is what life is all about, after all.
Why Mindfulness Is Important
Mindfulness can improve your mental and physical health. However, that’s not the only reason it’s important. It also speaks to your soul.
Consider the above reasons why mindfulness is important. Then, incorporate some of these tips and reap more enjoyment and good vibes from your life today.
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