Embrace the Present Through Mindfulness
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present”
The ‘now’ changes the us of the future and the ‘now’ is better than the us of the past. The ‘now’ has learned and grown from their mistakes and the ‘now’ is ready to take on the challenges of the future. In our fast-paced, dynamic lives we often are too busy preoccupied with ourselves, our past mistakes and our future decisions that we forget to live in the present. Mindfulness is the simple practice of being present in the present. The mind is fully attentive and focused on the ‘now’; all regrets of the past and all hope for the future is forgotten, it is only the ‘now’ that matters.
Seems easy enough, doesn’t it? Except it’s not…Our mind so often takes flight and steers away from the matter at hand that it is almost impossible for the uninitiated to focus on the present for more than a few minutes, if not seconds, at a time. However, since mindfulness is a part of us and is not something foreign or exotic, with a little bit of consistent practice, anybody can unlock and unleash their fullest capability through the practice of mindfulness.
The definition of mindfulness varies from practitioner to practitioner since it’s more of an experience than a theoretical practice. In the basic sense, mindfulness is the human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we are doing at the moment. There are many ways in which one can practice mindfulness but the most common and arguably the most effective way is through meditation. Mindful meditation helps us spend time exploring our natural curiosity without any judgement and helps us approach the day with gratitude and cognizance.
Benefits of Meditation and Mindfulness
“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes,” says Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, peace activist. The benefits of mindfulness are many ranging from metacognitive awareness to better digestion. Here are some of the most commonly seen benefits of Mindfulness:
Increased happiness: Being mindful helps enjoy even the smallest pleasures in life. By focusing on the present, the here and the now, people find it easier to find happiness rather than ruminating over the regrets of the past or getting caught up in the worries of the future. Studies have shown that people who practise mindfulness are less concerned about problems and struggles in their life and are more focused on giving gratitude and showing appreciation for the smaller moments of joy in life. Mindfulness practices are shown to reduce stress, assist in managing emotions and reactions, help us feel what others are feeling and cultivate compassion for ourselves and others.
Increasing heart health: Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death worldwide with 17.9 million people dying from heart-related diseases in 2019. According to a study conducted by the American Heart Association, regular daily meditation and mindfulness practise can considerably reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Meditating for only 5 minutes a day can raise your Heart rate variability (HRV) which indicates your heart health. Even for currently healthy hearts, research suggests that mindful meditation can increase respiratory sinus arrhythmia, indicating better heart health and better chances of survival in case of a heart attack.
Improving immune response: As we approach a post-pandemic world, immune health takes priority over everything else. Mindfulness has been proven to affect our immune cells which help fight disease and infection. According to studies, mindfulness practices have appeared to increase levels of T-cells and T-cell activity in HIV and breast cancer patients. Studies also show that patients who took a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program showed faster-wound healing, higher levels of interleukin-8 and reduced C-reactive protein levels, suggesting that mindfulness can play an integral role in helping our body’s immune system work better in fighting against diseases.
Increases memory power: Mindfulness practitioners have improved short-term memory and research also suggests that they have a bigger hippocampus. Hippocampus is the part of our brain which is responsible for short-term and long-term memory as well as spatial memory that enables navigation. This is also the area that first gets affected with the onset of Alzheimer’s and so, practising mindfulness can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. This also holds for cognitive disorders such as amnesia and dementia.
Increases Emotional Regulation: In essence, emotion regulation involves allowing emotions to be useful, productive elements of your internal experience by identifying, managing, and responding to them. When you are overwhelmed with thoughts, emotions and feelings, they are not serving you healthily or productively as opposed to when you keep your emotions in check. Mindfulness does exactly that - it helps you keep your emotions in check. Aside from momentary relief, strong emotional regulation skills can enhance interpersonal relationships, long-term well-being improves both personal and professional skills and even results in better overall health.
Getting started with mindfulness is extremely easy but do keep in mind that only with consistent and patient practice will you be able to reap all the benefits of it. Just like going to the gym once will not help you reach your fitness goal, practicing mindfulness once will not help you reach your mental health goals.
Ironically, most people struggle with mindfulness since they tend to overthink it. Since mindfulness is all about being aware and present, all you need to do is find some time at a place where you know you won’t be disturbed and just be present. Thoughts and feelings are bound to roll by but the aim is not to be completely devoid of thoughts but to let them pass by without attaching any feelings or judgements to them. Be kind to yourself even if you do judge your thoughts and whenever you are aware that you aren’t being present, return to your state of mindfulness and continue the practice. There are many resources and media available on the internet for your reference so go forth and start on your mindfulness journey.