What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the here and now.Many of us think of mindfulness as meditation: sitting still for 20 minutes or longer, eyes closed, no noise or distractions. We believe this requires an enormous dedication and discipline in order to achieve this kind of mindfulness.
But there is something called “informal mindfulness” which is simply being present in the moment during normal, everyday activities.
“Single-tasking” means doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. Whether you are brushing your teeth, folding the clothes, walking the dog, or eating an apple, slow down and be fully present from start to finish, letting the experience unfold and involve all of your senses.
Multi-tasking, rather than being a skill to cultivate, encourages bad brain habits. Staying on one task until completion results in a release of dopamine, our reward hormone. Our brains love that hit and we are encouraged to keep switching between mini-tasks to get that instant gratification. The hormone surge makes us feel like we are accomplishing lots when we really aren’t doing much at all. Multi-tasking lowers work quality and efficiency and the cognitive damage associated with it could be permanent.
Research shows mindfulness has many positive health benefits.
Research of more than 35 years from the University of Massachusetts Medical School – Center for Mindfulness shows positive benefits of a mindful approach to life including management of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Studies with children suggest that the practice of mindfulness improves the immune system as well as increasing gray matter in the brain involved with memory processes, emotional regulation, empathy, and perspective taking.
There are many formal practices of mindfulness: sitting meditations, awareness of breath, walking meditations, and sensory-guided meditations.
When we practice mindfulness in a more informal way we notice our experience from moment to moment and bring our attention to one thing as many times as we can throughout the day. Every day tasks take on a different cast because our view of them can support the cultivation of mindfulness. Instead of rushing through a ‘chore’, we immerse ourselves in it, noticing every subtle nuance of the task. We note the sensations in our bodies, our emotions and thoughts. Our sense perception becomes heightened. We are more alive in the common event.