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Just like our body, our brain also needs a fitness routine to stay healthy and practising mindfulness is that routine. Mindfulness is a term that many of us might be familiar with, however it is not new. It’s one of the central aspects of a 2500 year old tradition of Buddhist psychology. 

Traditionally mindfulness as used in ancient texts, is an English translation of the Pali (Pali is the language in which the teachings of the Buddha were originally compiled) word sati, which connotes awareness, attention and remembering. Mindfulness essentially is the first step towards meditation as in the early stages of meditation practice, the focus is on attention and awareness of the present moment. It’s our capacity to watch our minds and remain conscious and aware as emotions, feelings and thoughts arise. Over time our capacity to simply witness the process becomes stronger and we’re less likely to label our internal experiences as good or bad, making us be more present and therefore acceptance naturally arises as a result. 

The ability to be fully conscious and aware is within all of us. It’s a valuable part of human experience but due to our demanding and busy lifestyles, however, we’re only usually in this state for fleeting periods of time and soon we’re absorbed in the daydreams and our personal narratives. We fold our laundry while keeping one eye on the kids and another on the television. We plan our day while listening to the radio and commuting to work. But in the rush to accomplish necessary tasks, we may find ourselves losing our connection with the present moment and missing out on what we’re doing and how we’re feeling. This state is called mindlessness. We’re in this state when we’re lost in the memories of the past or imagining, fantasising and planning the future. It doesn’t mean that you should completely give up the habit of planning but what’s important is to keep a check on the time that you’re spending in planning your uncertain and unpredictable future by practicing mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without any judgment. Being mindful is beneficial as it helps to direct attention away from stress and other negative thoughts or emotions. This is a great way to help manage good mental health. You can practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime, and produce a state of mindful meditation in many different ways. It could be any empty corner of your house, your bedroom or in your parked car. Simple techniques like slow and guided breathing while sitting in traffic to more structured practices like body scanning or walking meditation can all promote relaxation and reduce stress. There’s more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment. 

Here are some ways you can incorporate mindfulness into everyday activities:

  • Basic mindfulness meditation – Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Intentionally breathe in and out in a slow and calculated way. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.
  • Pay attention on body sensations – Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
  • Sensory – Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
  • Emotions – Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.” Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
  • Urge surfing – Cope with cravings (for addictive substances or behaviors) and allow them to pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving triggers. Replace the wish for the craving to go away with the certain knowledge that it will subside.
  • Live in the moment – Don’t think of things in the past or worry about the future. Concentrate on what’s happening here and now.
  • Accept yourself – Speak kindly to yourself. Use gentle words like you’d use for your loved ones and love yourself unconditionally. Stay with it – At times, this process may not seem relaxing at all, but over time it provides a key to greater happiness and self-awareness as you become comfortable with a wider range of your experiences.

Although the cultivation of mindfulness has roots in Buddhism as mentioned above, most religions include some type of prayer or meditation technique that helps shift your thoughts away from your usual preoccupations toward an appreciation of the present moment and a larger perspective on life. Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, helped to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health, attitudes, and behaviors. He wrote the seven pillars of mindfulness which bring to light the principles that we can use and practice to achieve balance in our own life and also find peace within us. Following these practices can help us live a more balanced and healthy life.
Let’s discover what the principles of mindfulness are and how you can put them into action.

  1. Non-judging

The world isn’t black and white. However, many of us see judgments as just that. Something is either good or bad; this automatic judgment takes over and informs your choices in ways that you may not even realize. It is critical that you find awareness. Not action, but awareness. You must be able to recognize the judgments you automatically make so you can begin to work around them.

  1. Patience

As the saying goes, patience is a virtue, the same point is made in the principles of mindfulness. You must understand that the events of your life will unfold in time and accept that. There is no need to rush. You should live the moment for what it is and not become too transfixed on the future.

  1. Beginner’s Mind

It’s easy to lose yourself if you begin to believe that you have heard, seen and experienced everything. This principle brings forward the idea that life is ever changing. No moment is the same as another. Each one is unique in nature and contains unique possibilities. The beginner’s mind reminds us of this simplicity. The focus here is to not let your experiences become filtered by what you believe you already know.

  1. Trust

Having trust in yourself, your beliefs and your intuition is necessary to find peace. Being your own person and letting your ideals guide you are the only way to be sure that you are on the right path. You should be open to learning and listening, but ultimately know that the choices you make should be decided based on what you think and believe.

  1. Non-Striving

Being and trusting yourself is crucial within the principles of mindfulness. Non-striving is the practice of recognizing that who you are is enough and that striving to be “different” or “better” can be distracting. Embrace who you are and find comfort in that. This allows you to concentrate on the things that matter in the present moment.

  1. Acceptance

Acceptance can sometimes be misconstrued. This principle is not about being complacent and choosing to be content with things you may not like. Instead, the idea is that you learn to accept the way that things really are. Don’t be clouded by your biases. Instead, you should learn to see the facts within our world and accept them as they are.

  1. Letting Go

Letting go, it seems simple enough, doesn’t it? The truth is that relaxing can be difficult when naturally people become fixated in their own thoughts and ideas. It elevates stress and doesn’t allow us to really focus on what matters. To be mindful, you need to be able to free yourselves of worry and focus on the present. If you’re new to mindfulness, it might seem a little strange at first. All you need is to tune into your body, practice journaling, be honest to yourself and be open to have an inner dialogue. Start the day right. When your alarm rings in the morning, do you jump out of bed and feel ready to face the day? Or do you curl under the blanket, smack the snooze button and remain in autopilot mode until you’ve gulped down a few coffees?  If it’s the latter, it might be worth incorporating some mindfulness into your morning routine. Next time you wake up, try and set an intention for the day. This isn’t a goal or a to-do list that you’re pressuring yourself to complete. There’s no required ‘result’. You’re simply asking yourself how you want to be, live and show up today. For example, you might decide to let go of a grudge or regret. Or you may decide to be patient and compassionate with yourself. Keep this intention in mind and check in with yourself periodically throughout the day. Hopefully, it helps you live life more deliberately and authentically. Be grateful. As human beings, we all have a “negativity bias”. This means our brains are hardwired to pay attention to information that scares us or that we perceive to be a threat. Our naturally negative minds can make us believe that the world is against us. It’s like we’re wearing blinkers, and we can only focus on what we don’t have or what we should be doing. When we’re in this headspace, we may only realise what we took for granted when we’re faced with real hardship. This is where gratitude can really help. Even in tough moments, we can choose to be grateful for the good things in our lives — whether that’s a loving family member or friend, a beautiful sunny day, or the simple pleasure of a good cup of coffee. 

Mindfulness is often seen as synonymous with meditation and breathing. But, as nice as those things are, there are ways we can approach even the mundane in life with mindfulness and care. Mindfulness can be applied to many things you do in the waking hours, from going for a walk outdoors to chowing down on your lunch just so long as you do it mindfully. And, who knows, it might just open you up to a whole host of new sensations. Perhaps you start to appreciate the crisp morning air on your daily walk or spot wildlife or lush greenery that you never noticed before. Maybe, if you take time to slow down and really savour the flavours of your dinner, you might awaken your senses and rediscover your body’s cues for hunger. By picking an activity you engage with daily and completing it mindfully you’ll probably begin to feel more present and attentive to day-to-day life.

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