Mindfulness: what it is, features and benefits
It has been a long time since human beings have separated themselves from what nature had in store for us. Not only have we abandoned natural environments and created urban regions where we can live together, but we also live in the midst of a globalized society that asks us for more than what we are often capable of giving.
We live surrounded by impulses. Information, both positive and negative, is reaching us at all hours. And in this context of always being subjected to the bombardment of stimuli, it can be difficult for us to connect, ironic as it may seem in a world where we are all connected to each other, to ourselves.
Stress, pace of life, competitiveness, schedules, responsibilities, social networks, entertainment media ... All these aspects that make up the human society of the 21st century are practically inevitable, but what we can work on is the way in which our mind perceives what surrounds us.
And this is where mindfulness comes into play, a philosophy of life based on meditation practices that are used as a tool to achieve, despite the impulses from the outside, a deep state of mindfulness whose practitioners claim improves both physical and emotional health. In today's article we will look at the science behind mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a concept that is surrounded by many spiritual, religious, and mystical connotations. We will focus on the more scientific aspect. In this sense, within the world of Psychology, mindfulness, mindfulness or mindfulness is defined as being intentionally attentive to what we do and feel, without judging or rejecting what we experience.
We can also understand mindfulness as a philosophy of life based on the practices of vipassana meditation, a Buddhist term that is often translated as “insight”. In this sense, mindfulness has a clear origin in Buddhist meditation.
Your meditation practices seek to achieve a deep state of mindfulness so that the practitioner focuses his attention on what is perceived, without paying attention to the problems or their causes or consequences. In this sense, we explore thoughts, emotions and sensations but without judging them.
In addition, we can understand mindfulness as an evolution within traditional meditation, since we not only seek to induce an intellectual activity to focus our attention on a thought, an object or a perceptible element, but, since its relatively recent heyday, it has sought to improve both physical and emotional health by separating from abstract concepts linked to religion, spirituality and philosophy.
In other words, mindfulness today has been separated from its spiritual and religious origins and is intended to be a science-backed practice that it serves as a tool to improve the quality of life in the physical and, although it is more subjective, the psychological of the people who practice it.
Characteristics of mindfulness: what does science say?
The starting point of mindfulness is, if we put ourselves in the perspective of science, quite positive. And it is that detaching from religion, spirituality and philosophy has made it possible for us to develop a meditation based on scientific principles.
In what sense? Well, in the sense that mindfulness does not seek to be an art with which to connect with spirituality as other less systematized forms of meditation do, but is based on being consensual, developing well-established practices that, at least, are applied in the same way anywhere in the world.
In this way, thanks to this systematization of their practices, we can obtain data from different investigations, compare cases and reach conclusions about the benefits (or not) of this mindfulness. It is a tool that, at least with its starting point, is scientifically endorsed and there are many studies that, thanks to its well-agreed guidelines, have been able to extract objective information on its benefits for human health.
Therefore, although it is normal for practitioners to understand mindfulness as a philosophy of life, this discipline has nothing of religious, spiritual, mystical or philosophical dogma, rather it is a constantly evolving tool where nothing is ever taken for granted and whose foundations are based on science and exploring, through the scientific method, how mindfulness is related to mental health, empathy, self-control, emotional intelligence, resilience, physical condition ...
In fact, research has even shown that practicing mindfulness for half an hour a day can help alleviate symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders. In the same way, but on a physical level, the practice of this meditation can have positive effects on the perception of pain and can even stimulate the activity of the immune system.
Science has also shown how it improves memory capacity, stimulates concentration in our daily lives, enhances self-awareness (self-knowledge) and helps work on emotional intelligence.
Even so, it must be taken into account that many of these concepts are subjective and that, despite having been measured through scientific studies, mindfulness is neither the cure for all ills nor does it have the same benefits for all people who practice it. What we can confirm scientifically is that in many people it can be a good complementary tool for other healthy lifestyle habits that protect our physical and emotional health.
How is mindfulness practiced?
We have seen what it is and what science says about it, but how do we achieve this state of mindfulness where we play with our mental patterns to get focused on the "here" and the "now"? Let's see how mindfulness should be practiced.
Obviously, it is best that you seek advice from an active professional who can guide you. We will give the basic tips so that, if you are interested, you know where to start. For starters, you should know that experts say that the ideal is to practice mindfulness for half an hour each day. Even so, they also say that, for beginners, it is best to start with shorter sessions (about 10 minutes is fine) to gradually adapt to meditation.
It is also important to do it in a room free of noise (putting the mobile in silence is vital) and, ideally, with an ambient temperature between 18 ℃ and 25 ℃, although there are people who like to practice it outdoors. In this case, no problem, but make it a quiet and comfortable place. It is also advisable to wear comfortable clothing and, if circumstances allow, remove all accessories (shoes, necklaces, ribbons, bracelets ...) that may oppress the body.
Regarding position, it is best to be seated (on the floor, in a chair, in bed ...) regardless of the place or the exact position, but it does the back is straight to ensure correct breathing, something that, as we will see now, is essential.
You can use a cushion, a towel or a mat to be more comfortable, but the important thing is that the vertebrae are kept straight and that you support the weight of the chest, head and neck. The arms and legs should be as relaxed as possible (you can support them on the hips if you want) but without causing them to destabilize the spine. When the posture does not generate any tension, everything is ready for us to start.
Mindfulness meditation is based on focusing attention on the breath but without thinking about it. That is, we have to feel how the body travels but without paying attention to what will happen next. Simply listen to it, observe it and feel it flow. When our world is reduced to breathing, we can pronounce and repeat a word ("ohm" is the most typical) or short phrase that, for us, induces relaxation, at the same time that we imagine a quiet, real or imaginary place.
At first, mindfulness will be based on this: on focusing attention on the here and now. But over time, we will train the mind to empty itself. This is the end point of meditation. When we achieve, with dedication, this state, we will be able to observe our emotions and feelings, but without judging them. We will only see them flow. As we did with the breath. With practice, each time we will be able to keep our minds blank for longer and, therefore, the greater the benefits.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
As we have seen, the practice of mindfulness is scientifically endorsed. Indeed, this mindfulness-based form of meditation has been shown to have physical and emotional benefits. Even so, as we have commented, it does not mean that it is the cure to all ills or that all people experience these benefits with the same ease or frequency.
Mindfulness has not been, is not and will not be a panacea. And anyone who says otherwise is lying. It is, yes, a very good tool that certain people can take advantage of so that, obviously, in conjunction with all other healthy lifestyle habits (eat well, do not smoke, do not drink, play sports, sleep the necessary hours, socialize ...), can improve our health at different levels.
But what exactly are the benefits of mindfulness? Those that we have been able to rescue from prestigious scientific publications are the following- Helps relieve (and control) symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders, helps fight insomnia, stimulates the immune system, protects the brain from the effects of Neurological aging, stimulates concentration capacity, improves memory, helps increase emotional intelligence, helps improve interpersonal relationships, promotes creativity, improves working memory, reduces pain perception and enhances self-awareness.
It is clear that not everyone needs mindfulness to feel good on a physical and emotional level. But if you think that you can benefit, we recommend (remembering that it will never be the cure to all problems and that these benefits do not depend solely on meditating for half an hour a day) that you try this form of mindfulness-based meditation.