Life is an emotional roller coaster ride filled with steep climbs and breathtaking drops. Anger. Joy. Sadness. Emotions paint the portrait of life, and yet they can also strike the match that burns the whole thing to the ground.
We live our lives in the present, yet our minds are usually everywhere BUT the present moment. We miss out on the here and now ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. This is counterproductive. The human mind is most powerful and creative in the present — by focusing too much on the past or future, you fail to reach your full potential.
So how do you prevent your mind from slipping into an unending cycle of self-doubt and anxiety? How can you take a firm grasp on your emotions before they undermine your productivity and relationships? The answer is Mindfulness.
Mindfulness may sound like an empty buzzword. But it’s not. Mindfulness is the act of being aware of your feelings and emotions, and acknowledging — and eventually understanding — how they impact your thoughts and behaviors. It is the state of being present, undistracted, and tuned-in, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It teaches us to recognize our feelings without allowing them to dictate our actions. Practicing mindfulness can give you more control over your life.
Not Just Another Pop-psychology Gimmick
Mindfulness and meditation are like taking your mind to the gym — you are building mental muscle. And it literally changes the anatomy of your brain. In a recent Harvard study, Sara Lazar and her team of researchers found that eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus (the part responsible for learning and memory) and decreased brain cell volume in the amygdala (which governs fear, anxiety, and stress). What’s more, participants self-reported lower levels of stress throughout the study, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it also changes our subjective perception and feelings.
Practicing mindfulness can positively impact your life in many other ways. For example, researchers at Yale University discovered that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts. Mind-wandering is commonly associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future; it’s also something regularly disrupts our productivity.
Over 1,000 studies have been published demonstrating the positive effects of mindfulness on mental health. Taken together, the findings are quite remarkable: mindfulness can lead to meaningful decreases in stress, anxiety, depression, and pain while also increasing happiness and quality of life. Engaging in mindfulness helps us recognize our feelings without allowing them to dictate our actions. It allows us to harness our impulses and engage our higher reasoning before reacting.
So, what are you waiting for?
How to Start Practicing Mindfulness Today
You can literally start right now. This instant. Stop what you’re doing and give this quick breathing exercise a shot (really we don’t mind, this post will still be here when you’re done).
Draw a deep breath through your nose. Make sure you take a solid 3 seconds to fill your lungs. Now exhale very slowly through your mouth until your have completely emptied your lungs.
Repeat this process. Slowly draw in another breath and hold it in for 2 seconds. Exhale slowly through your mouth.
Try this again one more time, this time with your eyes closed.
Feeling a little clearer? If not, take a couple more deep breaths.
Engaging in breathing exercises like this calms vital functions like respiration and heart rate. Another benefit is that it can be done anywhere, anytime — simply find a quiet area and take three to five calming breaths. Practicing this routine on a daily basis will help calm your mind and allow for meaningful self-reflection.
Mindful meditation, like that used in the research studies mentioned above, is typically done in a class. To make these classes more accessible, local startup Recharj is opening a mindfulness studio right here in Washington, DC.
But if you’d like to try mindfulness meditation on your own first, check out this mindfulness meditation cheat sheet. Tired of reading? Here’s a short video of a Buddhist monk giving you all the tips you need to meditate everywhere, anytime. But “I literally can’t look at a screen anymore, or my eyeballs will fall out” you say! That’s ok. Just close your eyes and listen to free guided meditations from this great audio collection. See, no excuses.
Mindfulness is Good for Everyone
For the average American living in today’s highly technological world, being able to recognize our feelings and to act on them with foresight and planning is invaluable. Mindfulness has been used (and yielded promising results) with police officers, cardiac patients, and underprivileged students to name a few.
You don’t have to be defined by your impulses and raw emotions. You can take control. You always possess the capacity to change your mindset and navigate towards you optimal outcome. The best part is, this new freedom and control comes at no cost. Mindfulness can provide you with the tools you need to re-program yourself — it takes some work, but the rewards are priceless.
We hope this post was helpful. If you have questions or would like to share tips from your personal experience with Mindfulness leave us a comment below.
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