What are the benefits of mindfulness that can we hope to achieve?
The prime aim of mindfulness is to build awareness, clarity and acceptance of our surroundings without judgment and to root our awareness in the present. In addition, a number of other medical and psychological goals can be achieved through either mindfulness practice alone or through mindfulness techniques in conjunction with CBT. And beyond even these goals, those that practice mindfulness regularly report that it brings a number of other advantages with regards to mood and creativity. Here are some of those reported health and happiness benefits:
A feeling of wellbeing and contentment
When we’ve spent some time successfully keeping at bay thoughts and distractions around the past or the future, we can experience a feeling of fulfilment that goes above and beyond merely taking a break from what worries us. We can feel as though we are experiencing the joy of life directly at first hand. This contentment at merely ‘being’ stays with us, and can be revisited throughout the day.
Freedom from striving
Life can feel like the pursuit of a series of goals, and this can be a helpful way to view it, helping us to be focused and productive. The downside of this approach is that, rather than remaining as a useful exercise in visualising our goals, it spreads to become the very core of how we think and feel.
This can mean that our base-line experience of life is one of yearning and striving for more. One of the aims of mindfulness is to achieve a contentment in the present moment that’s free from these yearnings, allowing us to relax and enjoy greater perspective and appreciation in life.
Freedom from agonising
The past can be hard to escape. We spend a lot of time reviewing our memories, reliving experiences and going over decisions and actions we took and what we could have done differently. While we undoubtedly learn from the past, one truth remains absolutely certain – it can never be changed. This truth leaves us with acceptance as the only option. Mindfulness can help us to embrace existence in the present as a way of accepting the past. In that moment where we are accepting and experiencing the present, we are free from agonising about situations from the past.
Reduced levels of stress
Relaxation of mind and body is a great stress reliever. Mindfulness can help you to let go of tension in your muscles as well as putting the mind in a peaceful place. Giving your mind and body a break during the actual mindful practice is just one of the benefits of mindfulness. It not only provides respite during the practice itself, but it carries through into everyday life, allowing us to deal with stressful situations calmly and effectively.
Improvements in general health have been shown among people practicing mindfulness. It is particularly effective in helping to reduce high blood pressure. A regular mindfulness routine has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol which is a stress hormone that causes elevated blood pressure.
Mindfulness techniques have the power to help you to view yourself with increased positivity and acceptance. A 2009 study in America, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology showed that acceptance-based therapy based on mindfulness techniques, when applied by people experiencing of generalised anxiety disorders, was effective in improving levels of self-esteem over the course 2 months’ practice.
Of course, mindfulness won’t cause the pounds to start dropping off in and of itself, but people that have struggled to lose weight in the past have found that they’ve experienced considerably more success since they began practicing mindfulness. This may be due to a number of factors including: improvements in our self-esteem, increased self-control, and a generally more positive approach to life that leads us to engage more in activity and exercise.
In addition, practising mindfulness actually while we are eating can improve our experience and prevent us from absent-mindedly overeating. By inhabiting the moment, appreciating the taste, the aroma, the texture of each mouthful, not only do we enjoy our meals more, we become aware of when we’ve eaten a sufficient amount sooner than we would otherwise.
The control we gain over our mental processes can help us to switch off at the end of the day. Remember: what we practice makes us stronger. Repeatedly flexing our capacity to calm our own minds makes us more able to bring our racing minds under control and prepare for sleep. It’s not a quick fix for insomnia, but routine practice will help develop our potential to be in charge of our thoughts rather than being at their mercy at bedtime. And the longer we live with mindfulness as part of our lives, the less intrusive our thoughts may become.
Clearly this is a benefit that’s difficult to quantify but the reports we hear back from people that have committed to maintaining a daily routine of mindfulness is that their practice has cleared the way for new ideas and creative thoughts to come to the fore allowing them to feel more creative.