In today’s fast-paced world, mindfulness has become somewhat of a buzz-word, but what does it really mean? And is it actually worthwhile or just another fad?
In my own personal life as a mom, wife, and business owner I’ve found that mindfulness has been a helpful tool for slowing down, feeling calm in the middle of chaotic circumstances, and being more connected to those around me. But even above my own experiences, research has shown the numerous mental and physical health benefits it can hold, and I truly believe it is something that can positively affect anyone’s quality of life. Mindfulness has started gaining traction and is being implemented in schools, sports teams, and big corporations, to help improve performance, productivity, and emotional regulation.
So what IS mindfulness? The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley defines mindfulness as ‘maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.’ This means we switch from auto-pilot to being fully present in our day-to-day lives. We become more aware of what we are experiencing in the moment, without judgement, and without being caught up in the events of the past or what may or may not happen in the future.
Mindfulness: ‘maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.’
What mindfulness is not: It’s not specifically meditation (although there are many mindfulness-based meditations), it’s not religious, it’s not expensive, time consuming, or complicated. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily easy, at least at first, but over time you begin to re-wire your brain and it starts getting easier.
Mindfulness is a learned skill, and just like a sport, musical instrument, or any skill, it takes consistent practice to reap the benefits. Studies have shown that a consistent mindfulness practice improves attention, mood, mental health, as well as immune function and brain function along with a host of other benefits. It has actually shown through brain scans to improve function in the amygdala, a part of the brain which helps to control emotional regulation, the hippocampus which influences memory, and the prefrontal cortex which regulates impulse control and maturity. It is a growing scientific field with many implications for improving brain health, longevity, stress regulation, and overall wellbeing.
So what does it actually look like to practice mindfulness? Here are a few of the ways that I’ve implemented it in my life:
1) Movement mindfulness: while walking (even a short distance), stretching/yoga, or working out – check into how you are feeling and do a quick ‘body-scan’ where you check into each of the areas in your body, noticing and releasing any tension. This is a great way to also notice any emotional charge or stress and feel it and then release what you don’t want. Feel your feet on the ground, feel the breathe coming in and out of your lungs, notice what feels good and embrace it.
2) Mindfulness in the mundane: you can do a similar practice while doing your regular events of the day. Check in with yourself while driving and maybe slow down and take some deep breaths at a stop light. Another great option is any time you find yourself reaching for your phone out of boredom – stop, and take a minute or two to check in with how you’re doing. Even something like brushing your teeth can be mindful if you set a timer and really notice where your thoughts are going and then redirect them to the experience of brushing your teeth in that moment.
3) Mindfulness meditation: Yes, I do also utilize meditation as a great way to practice mindfulness, however it isn’t always sitting down for 30-60 minutes at a time. Sometimes it’s only 5-10 minutes to sit down and breathe and I will just follow my breath and mentally say “breathing in, I am breathing in – breathing out, I am breathing out”. This was a practice I learned several years ago when I was first introduced to mindfulness and I still use it regularly since it is simple and effective. Popular apps such as Headspace and the Calm app also have many guided mindfulness meditations which can be really helpful starting points.
If you’ve never heard of mindfulness I hope this gives you an idea of what it is and where to start, and if you’re someone who knows it is helpful but haven’t made it a daily practice- I hope you’re encouraged to utilize it more regularly!
Dr. Rachel Wurdemann is a vitalistic chiropractor and owner of Sanctuary Blue: A Center for Optimal Living. She specializes in a gentle holistic approach to neural integration and whole-body wellness. She has a background in health and life coaching and received her Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life University in Atlanta, Ga. She lives on Daniel Island with her husband Josh and their 3-year old son, Maverick. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach, climbing, in the gym, reading a good book, playing board games, and enjoying nourishing food.
~ Life is too short to not feel good and spread joy ~