What is mindfulness? – Benefits + Mindfulness Exercise

Mindfulness is living with attention. Mindfulness ensures that you stop worrying, experience less stress, work more effectively and feel better.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a movement in psychology that has conquered the West. You can’t turn your ass or you come across mindfulness. But what exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness means ‘living with full attention’. Most people live constantly in their heads – in their thoughts. The vast majority of these thoughts are about the future: “I have to visit my mother tomorrow”, “Tomorrow I have to finish that report”, “I’m going to clean up later, and then make those phone calls”.

With mindfulness you are going to focus your attention on the present. You just let go of all thoughts for ‘later’ or ‘tomorrow’, and keep yourself busy with what you’re doing now.

Mindfulness is enjoying the ‘now’

Suppose you’re in the car from work. Soon you’ll have to do some shopping, making dinner and doing the dishes. Tonight you shouldn’t forget to shoot that beautiful movie because you wanted to visit your girlfriend. This is the normal way of thinking. But what if you live with mindfulness?

Then you listen to the hum of the car, the sounds of the radio. You feel the warmth of the car heater flowing along your face and hands.

You see what happens on the road: the other cars, the environment, the road. You are aware of the bumps in the road, the resistance of the pedal and so on.

You are fully immersed in the experience of the ‘now’, that is mindfulness. Mindfulness provides more focus and better performance.

Advantages of mindfulness

  • Mindfulness reduces stress
  • Mindfulnerss makes you more productive
  • Mindfulness saves time because of its greater focus
  • You enjoy life more, you feel happier about it.
  • Through mindfulness you learn to recognize something ‘beautiful’ in every situation.
  • Mindfulness teaches you to see the little things and to enjoy them.
  • Simple and practical – mindfulness exercise
  • Mindfulness is basically a very accessible form of meditation. By being regularly aware of the ‘now’ you can learn mindfulness. Exercise makes perfect.

Sit quietly and breathe in and out deeply a few times. Relax your shoulders. Focus your attention for a few minutes on your breathing.

Then be aware of everything that is happening around you right now. Let thoughts pass quietly and do not pay attention to them. Hear the sounds around you, feel the chair under your buttocks, smell the smell of the room.

Notice how you get more into the moment. And how the focus on the ‘now’ gives you more silence in your head.

Tip: Many people find mindfulness a fine technique, but forget it in their daily lives that they wanted to apply it. You can solve this by, for example, putting a mindfulness stone in your pocket.

Every time you feel this stone you remind yourself that you want to enjoy the moment.

Mindfulness is also: not judging

Everyone can learn mindfulness. It is important that you are open to it. There is an even more difficult aspect to it: don’t judge.

When you are in mindfulness it is important that you perceive everything as it is, and do not try to judge it. This also requires practice.

Relaxation is a result of mindfulness, not the goal

Although relaxation is one of the greatest benefits of mindfulness, it is not the goal. You can be mindful when you are angry, hurried or stressed. However, this ensures that the anger or stress disappears faster than when you are not mindful.

Mindfulness does not mean that you do nothing

When you are mindful, your brain is active. You give full attention to your senses, your emotions and your environment without forming a judgment. It’s not about not doing anything. You can practice mindfulness at any time.

Although it is easier when you want to start with mindfulness to do that in a quiet room and to take the time. But you can also be mindful when you are busy.

Why is mindfulness healthy?

Janine has a crowded agenda. She feels that she is running a race against the clock every day. Through mindfulness she has learned to give her attention to only one thing at a time.

Because she has improved the quality of her work with mindfulness, it gives her more satisfaction. She experiences everything more consciously, is more open to others and she is less stressed. 

She feels that she is making better choices about what she does and does not want to do, so she has less of the idea that she is being lived.

There are many benefits of mindfulness that can be seen in both our private lives and our work, such as with Janine.

Here are three other important benefits:

# 1 Mindfulness reduces stress and heals your body and mind

The biggest advantage of practicing mindfulness is that you reduce stress. Too much stress in your body leads to a variety of physical and mental problems.

This is because too much stress keeps your body constantly in the ‘fight or flight’ mode of your central nervous system. Because of this your body cannot relax and cannot recover. You feel unhappy and you are often sick.

With mindfulness you activate the other part of your nervous system: your parasympathetic nervous system. With that you put your body in ‘rest & digest’ mode, so that you can relax, feel happier and your body can heal itself.

# 2 Mindfulness helps with addictions

People with an addiction constantly experience a desire for something. Whatever they are addicted to, they never have peace. Whether this is drugs, sex, food, caffeine or even social media, they are constantly looking for the ‘next fix’.

The last thing they probably want to do is dwell on their own thoughts.

But it is precisely when space is given to negative emotions, instead of being suppressed, that these emotions eventually become less strong.

# 3 Mindfulness helps with anxiety disorders and depression 

Neurological research shows that mindfulness has a positive influence on the regulation of emotions. The amygdala in your brain (which controls emotions such as aggression and fear) becomes less active.

It helps with anxiety disorders and depression because it changes your brain waves.

When you are mindful, certain parts of your brain light up that are normally not active when you do everything on autopilot. You even change the physical structure of your brain with it.

There are currently 5 types of brain waves known:

  • Alpha brain waves: reflect calm, relaxed thoughts
  • Beta brain waves: reflect active, analytical thoughts
  • Gamma brain waves: these are the fastest brain waves and active when we learn
  • Theta brain waves: these are usually active during light sleep and meditation
  • Delta brain waves: these are the slowest and active during deep sleep

In the presence of stress, such as a presentation at work, a date, an exam or a fight, a series of Beta brain waves are activated.

But when you relax during a massage, or while practicing mindfulness, your brain produces waves with a lower frequency, such as Alpha and Theta waves.

At Alfa waves we are alert and relaxed at the same time. At the moment, for example, you can best process information and you are the most creative.

With Theta waves you are even more relaxed.

When you meditate, you come into this state. It is the state between waking and sleeping, in which you are most receptive to creative ideas and your intuition is strongest.

Certain circumstances therefore trigger certain brain waves. You can therefore adjust your brain waves by placing yourself in different circumstances.

After practicing mindfulness for a long time, the density of the gray matter in your brain also changes. Which means that in principle you prevent the aging of your brain.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: founder Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

One of the most famous names in mindfulness is Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

He was the first to give the name mindfulness to the oriental meditation techniques and developed an eight-week training. It has been shown that this training helps against worry, depression and burnouts.

You can also follow these mindfulness trainings in different places in the Netherlands.

10 Mindfulness exercises to start

Would you rather start at home with some simple mindfulness exercises? Then choose which of the following exercises appeals to you the most and get started.

Meditation posture

meditatie-houdingen

It is important when you start to practice mindfulness meditation that you figure out how to keep your body comfortable but active.

Meditation can be practiced in a sitting, standing, crawling, lying or any other way.

The position is less important than the basics.

To ensure that your posture leads to successful meditation, try to keep these points in mind:

  • Your back must be straight, taking your natural position.
  • Do not bend your back, do not hang your shoulders down, or do not bump your back excessively.
  • Your vertebra must be relaxed but long.
  • Your shoulders are relaxed, your shoulder blades are pointed slightly towards each other and your shoulders down.
  • You can rest your hands on a pillow, on your knees or on your lap, so that your arms are relaxed.
  • Your head must be balanced and your chin slightly towards your chest.
  • The back of your neck must be relaxed, long and open.
  • Your face is relaxed. Lower your eyebrows, your lower jaw slightly from your upper jaw, your tongue quietly in your mouth, your forehead relaxed and your eyes relaxed.

# 1 Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is best practiced in a quiet room at first, with eyes closed or open and does not have to last longer than 5 minutes.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position. Sitting cross-legged, your legs stretched out in front of you or on a chair. Your knees must be lower than your hips.
  2. Make sure your back is straight and active. Do not lean against the wall or chair.
  3. Try to experience what you feel in your body without judging this.
  4. Do you feel tension somewhere? Pain? Heat or cold? Let it be, you don’t have to change it.
  5. What kind of emotions do you experience? Positive or negative, it doesn’t matter.

# 2 Focus mindfulness

By practicing mindfulness by focusing on something, you can observe what happens in your head. It can be described as “keeping your eyes on the road” because it focuses on a single experience.

You can best focus on your breath:

  1. Sit down as described above.
  2. Close your eyes or keep them open.
  3. Relax your face, let your lower jaw fall slightly away from your upper jaw.
  4. Observe your breath.
  5. It doesn’t matter how you breathe, but try to bring your attention back to your breathing every time.

# 3 Awareness mindfulness

In this exercise you try to look at your thoughts as if they belong to someone else. You observe your mind as if it were a flowing river of consciousness without giving judgment.

  1. Focus on your breathing to focus your attention within.
  2. Take a few deep breaths from your stomach. In and out .. relax .. release.
  3. Keep concentrating on your breathing as long as you want.
  4. Now try to see your thoughts, emotions, moods and sensations as objects flowing in a river.
  5. Without judgment or analysis just look at how they come and go.
  6. Now choose an object from this stream and focus on it. Let the other sensations and thoughts in the background go by.
  7. Notice new thoughts or feelings that float up because you focus on one object.
  8. Give it space for a moment.
  9. When you are ready to leave this object, put it on a tray and let it flow with you.

# 4 Body scan

The body scan is about focusing on your body parts, without judging.

  1. Lie down on the floor or on your bed with your floor and close your eyes.
  2. Go with your attention throughout your body. Start with your right foot, your right leg, your left foot, your left leg, your hips, your belly, your chest, your neck, your right shoulder, your right arm, your right arm and your fingers, your left shoulder, your left arm, your left hand, your fingers and finally your head. Feel your tongue lying in your mouth, your lips, your nose, your eyes, your forehead and the top and back of your head.
  3. When you notice a lot of tension somewhere, visualize that you bring your breath there until it relaxes.

# 5 Object meditation

Choose an item that you find special or interesting. Focus all your senses on it and notice the information that your senses give you.

A well-known exercise is for example the raisin. Hold a raisin in your hand and try to notice everything that you don’t normally pay attention to.

What is the shape, size, color, texture, odor, taste or sound of the raisin or object?

# 6 Mindful food

As with the previous exercise, you do this exercise with all your senses while focusing on food. Eat slowly and notice the smell, taste and structure of the food.

We pay much less attention to how we eat.

Although we really cannot live without oxygen, food and drink, we are not aware of the food at all.

# 7 Ongoing meditation

Take a walk at a quiet but normal speed. Observe how you walk, pay attention to the sensations in your body when you walk.

Notice how your shoulders feel (Tensed? Relaxed? Strong?), Your feet when you put them on the floor and the swing with your hips at every step.

Try to let your breathing determine the rhythm of your footsteps.

# 8 Mindful stretching

You can in principle give attention to your body with any kind of stretching, how it feels on the inside when you stretch your arm, for example.

Another effective way is to do yoga. Yoga has specially designed postures and transitions where you focus on your breathing.

# 9 Simply observe

In this exercise you let your thoughts float past like clouds in the sky.

You do not focus on anything, and again try not to pass judgment (“I am horrible that I think” or “What a nice thought! I am a good person.”).

If it helps you can try to name every thought, feeling or sensation (“painful neck, pizza, best friend, anger, tingling, empty stomach, again pizza, grandma, I miss her.”).

# 10 Breathing meditation with counting

Assume a comfortable posture following the points in the mediation posture list above.

Preparation:

Take a few deep breaths from your stomach to turn your attention inwards. You don’t have to do anything with your breathing yet. Just take a moment to switch from the external world to the internal world.

Phase 1:

After you have prepared, start counting your breath. You don’t have to change your breathing, just count. Count 1 at the inhalation, 2 at the exhalation, 3 at the inhalation, 4 at the exhalation and so on. When you reach 10, you start again.

Keep counting your breath for about five minutes. If you find your mind wandering, bring your attention back to the physical sensation of your breathing.

Phase 2:

Instead of counting both your inhalation and exhalation, you now only count your exhalation. There is a chance that this will lead to a completely different experience.

Count your exhalation again in rounds of 10. When you stray again, do not judge. It is normal. Just bring your attention back when you notice it.

Phase 3:

Instead of counting, just follow your breathing as it goes naturally. Notice what sensations you feel with your breathing. Focus on the transitions between the inhalation and the exhalation and vice versa.

Try to see breathing as a continuous process in an infinite circle of inhalation, transition, exhalation, transition rather than just a series of inhalations and exhalations.

Phase 4:

Here you focus your attention even more specifically on your sensations. Try to focus on how you feel when you breathe.

Notice the light sensations associated with each breath, such as the slight gust of wind on your lip when you exhale or the air that goes through your throat to your lungs.

PS Which mindfulness exercise do you enjoy doing best? Let us know by posting a comment. We would like to hear from you. 

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