“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu.
As Lao Tzu expresses so elegantly, mindfulness is about living and enjoying the present moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the clinically used and scientifically proven Mindfulness-based stress reduction course (MBSR), defines mindfulness as “Awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” He has written several books about mindfulness, the most famous is Full Catastrophe Living. But more importantly, he and his colleagues started scientifically studying the effect of mindfulness on the human brain and mental and physical health. Mindfulness is clinically used for stress reduction, treatment of posttraumatic disorders, depression, or addictions.
Nowadays there are many more studies about the positive effects of mindfulness. I can list:
- Better concentration and memory
- Burn-out prevention
- Increased satisfaction and happiness
- Better sleep
- Better mental and physical health
- Better immune system
- Pain reduction
- Control eating disorders
- Increase emphatic, altruistic and prosocial behavior
- Increase creativity
At the same time, I want to emphasize, it is not a miracle or cure for everything, as the message of many headlines suggest. Mindfulness is a long-term practice. It takes time and patience to see positive effects. However, I highly recommend experiencing it yourself.
You can find many books, articles or lectures about mindfulness and how to practice. You can also use apps like Headspace, Calm, Simple Habit or Insight Timer. However, mindfulness is not just about sitting still during formal practices. Mindfulness is also about living in the present moment and incorporating mindfulness into all daily activities. It means paying attention and fully enjoying your morning coffee, eating your lunch without disruption and really experiencing the taste, or just carefully listening during the conversations with your partner or colleagues. At the same time, you can use waiting at the bus stop or in line at the grocery shop to stop for a moment and really focus on yourself, your feelings and thoughts, your emotions, or your breath. You will maybe realize you are exhausted or a little bit sick, and thus you can slow down, take vitamins, and prevent a bigger illness.
Mindfulness is a practice. I love the analogy that mindfulness is a mental gym. You can catch the bus even without regular running, but you probably will be out of breath longer. The same works for mindfulness. You can cope with stress, however, with mindfulness it can be easier. Explore and try different mindfulness techniques. Everybody is different and has different needs and preference. It is worthy to try and find your own way.
written by Pavla Hubalkova
J. Brewer (2017): The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits. Yale University Press.
Chiesa et al. (2011): Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clin Psychol Rev, 31(3):449-64.
Goldberg et al. (2018): Mindfulness-based interventions for psychiatric disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev, 59:52-60.
Gu et al. (2015): How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies.Clin Psychol Rev, 37:1-12.
Hölzel et al. (2011): Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 191(1): 36–43.
Kabat-Zinn (1991): Full Catastrophe Living. Delacorte press.
Khoury et al. (2015): Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. J Psychosom Res, 78(6):519-28.
Mason et al. (2018): Testing a mobile mindful eating intervention targeting craving-related eating: feasibility and proof of concept. J Behav Med, 41:160–173.
Tang et al. (2015): The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213-225.