Why Be Mindful?
The popularity of mindfulness has been on the rise in the west for well over a decade, and rightfully so - it's one of the most mentally, physically and spiritually beneficial habits that a person can engage in on a regular basis. Thanks to eastern influences, modern science, and the work of some incredibly talented mindfulness researchers and practitioners, it seems that its popularity will only continue on its upward trend.
The amount of information available to us which supports the beneficial qualities of mindfulness is nearly endless. Despite all these resources though, many of us still find it challenging to incorporate mindfulness into our daily living. We wonder what a “mindful lifestyle” even looks like. First and foremost, it’s essential to understand that each mindful lifestyle will look different than the last, for no other reason than the fact that we each lead individual lives, hold our unique values, and have varying perceptions about our inner and outer worlds.
Probably the most important thing to remember when considering adapting to a more mindful lifestyle is to stay open-minded. Receiving the benefits of mindfulness is not an overnight job. Just like anything else that’s good for us, it takes time and practice - so don’t get down on yourself if you aren’t feeling any changes right away. When you do begin to experience the benefits of mindfulness, you’ll want to honor your practice so that you continue to receive the many positive results it offers.
So, What Are The Benefits?
There are innumerable benefits of mindfulness. This has been proven time and time again from several different academic fields, schools of thought, religions, scholars, and countless other sources. Three of the most appealing results of mindfulness are reduced stress, less severe physical aches, and pains, and enhanced decision-making abilities.
This particular benefit of mindfulness gets a lot of attention. If you do a little research on the internet, you'll find a wealth of resources dedicated to stress reduction through mindfulness practices. All of a sudden, everybody's talking about it. Why? Because it works.
The west is inhabited by a nation of stressed out, anxiety-ridden and depressed human beings. It's sad, but its true, and it isn't wholly our fault. Our society and our culture have led us to believe that there's only one type of life worth living; that life is the one that's continuously on-the-go, meticulously rooted in productivity, and centered around one of the most stress-causing environments we face - work.
In essence, stress is a many-headed beast that can attack at any time, in any situation. Mindfulness is the weapon we use to defend ourselves against it. From a biophysical standpoint, stress is nothing more than a hormonal reaction to the release of cortisol. Luckily recent research suggests that mindfulness can lower levels of cortisol or the stress hormone, as it has been so affectionately named.
Generally speaking, stressful people are restless, irritable, and discontent. They make little to no time and space for themselves, because they just "can't find the time." Mindfulness meditation can be as little as one minute long, and it will still offer the stress-laden person a moment of relief. Just a few of the results of untreated stress are high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. With all of the research we have on mindfulness and stress-reduction, a lack of time is no longer an excuse. After all, it can quite literally save your life.
Decreased Aches & Pains
If you or someone you love has ever suffered some chronic pain or even casual aches and pains, you know how crippling it can be. It would be crazy to think that mindfulness, which involves delving entirely into the current moment, would be helpful in relieving physical discomfort, right? Not necessarily. Mindfully examining the feelings of pain and illness as they rise and fall in the body is incredibly useful. Although it might seem absurd to our society's a-pill-will-fix-it mentality, the proof is in the pudding.
It's been shown that mindfulness relaxes the brain patterns responsible for pain and, eventually, this relaxation become grounded and begins to reconstruct the structure of the brain itself. Patients report, through mindfulness, the severity of their pain was lessened with time and with practice. This also confirms the view that the best of the mindful benefits will come after long-term practice. Vigilance and consistency play two vital roles in achieving a more conscious way of life. At some point in each of our lives, we will be met with physical pain. When that time comes, and we have mindfulness tools in our back pocket, we'll be thankful that we do.
When we’re not fully present in the moment, we fall victim to our own reactive tendencies. These tendencies manifest in many different ways. For some, it’s lashing out at their partner. For others, it’s picking up that beer or cocktail although they swore they’d never drink again. For others, it's no more than bringing the next four episodes of a show without so much as a movement or a thought.
A lack of mindfulness, e.g., mindlessness, is poison to our inner being. When we navigate the world mindlessly, we become slaves to our senses and our emotions. The ego takes the wheel, floors the gas, and doesn’t care who it plummets over in the process. This is only one of the many costs of living a life mindlessly driven by the ego; it is the gateway to small world thinking. By living life mindfully, on the other hand, we can show up every day as the best version of ourselves not only for ourselves but for every living creature whose path we might someday cross.
It's important to remember that in the end, decisions we have made are what will define us. As Gandhi so eloquently described it:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, and your values become your destiny.”
When we're mindful in our decision-making processes, we allow ourselves the space necessary to make choices that empower us rather than deplete us.
Take some time to comment below and share the benefits you've experienced!