I'll start by saying that there are way more than 5 benefits! But a huge list might be overwhelming so I've chosen some of my favourites to share with you.
Firstly, what do I mean by Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment with the attitude of acceptance, compassion & non-judgement.
It tends to bring to mind the image of meditation, a stack of pebbles on a beach or someone sitting on the end of a jetty looking at a mountain....
Your standard Mindfulness images
And these ideas aren't wrong, they are good examples of what mindfulness entails or symbolises; calm, perspective, balance, meditation practice.
And yet, there's so much more! To be fair, it's actually pretty difficult to capture mindfulness in one image, or one sentence. The way that I practice and teach it, it's a way of life. An ongoing commitment of returning to the truth of the present moment, of observing and allowing, of letting go and opening up.
My mindfulness practice does involve meditation - for me this is a focused time to practice the skills of awareness, acceptance, compassion and non-judgement. These are simple concepts but not always easy things to truly embody, so practice time is needed, like for any skill or discipline. But meditation is really just a small part of living mindfully; the idea is to take these skills and concepts off the mat/cushion and into daily life. Really anything can be done mindfully, though some activities make especially enjoyable or easy ways to bring mindfulness into the day-to-day, such as making tea, watering plants, walking and taking a shower.
So, why is it important? Whilst mindfulness practices don't have to be hugely time consuming, it does take some effort to build in these mindful habits. Let's look at what happens when we do:
Benefit 1: you actually live your life!
I'm going all existential on you from the start here. If you spend all your time thinking about what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, you are not really present. And the present moment is where life is actually happening. Now. In this moment. And now this moment.
So mindfulness is really the gift of living your life as it unfolds. Not missing out on your life feels pretty motivational to me!
“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” - Henry Miller
Benefit 2: it's good for your mental health.
There's a wealth of research now that shows how regular Mindfulness practice helps reduce anxiety, stress and depression. It works as a treatment but also as a preventative and way of maintaining wellbeing.
Improvement in mental health comes from various aspects of mindfulness, one of the main ones being the ability to observe and challenge your thoughts. This is incredibly useful to reduce rumination and spiralling into panic.
Learning to accept and feel your feelings is another important part of mindfulness practice and can be a real game changer for those going through a hard time; when you know how to face your emotions and process them in a healthy way, without resistance and judgement, you can really help yourself to move through difficulty.
The attitude of compassion is also incredibly beneficial here as we learn to cultivate a kinder inner voice and take better care of ourselves.
Benefit 3: better relationships
Most people site their relationships as one of the most important things in their lives; partners, friends, family, colleagues, clients and community are what give life meaning and colour. Humans are social animals so anything that enriches our relationships is worthy of our time and attention.
Mindfulness benefits relationships by giving us the skills to focus and listen properly. To notice when we're experiencing the mundane yet magical moments like a cosy dinner with a loved one, watching the children play or noticing the softness of your pets fur as you stroke them. Our practice helps us to treat others with compassion and to reduce judgement
Another important benefit of regular practice is that one that's good for all of society: mindfulness reduces our implicit biases, such as race prejudices. Research shows that mindfulness practice helps make our thoughts more conscious and reduces our likelihood of making negative judgements about others.
Benefit 4: Improves your relationship with your body
Body image related problems are very common, from the relatively mild hang ups most of us have about an aspect of our appearance to crippling mental illnesses like anorexia. This is especially the case for women, though all genders are affected. Mindfulness is a tonic here as the practice helps us to observe and experience our bodies in the present moment without judgement; noticing thoughts that arise and choosing whether or not to agree with or act on them. Meditations such as loving kindness and the body scan can really help with this.
Mindful movement practices such as yoga or qigong focus on sensation and awareness over image and appearance, which can be powerful experiences for reconnecting mind and body in a new and healthy way.
Benefit 5: Helps you to improve your focus, concentration and patience.
We live in a world where our attention is for sale. Media of all kinds is constantly vying for our likes, clicks and purchases. People are finding their concentration is suffering as a result of time spent using devices and because of the fast paced nature of modern life. Mindfulness acts as an antidote to the rushing and constant doing - the nature of the practice encourages us to slow down and be in the here and now. To be, rather than to do.
For many people this is challenging, and that's sort of the point. Like any skill, being still, sticking with one activity, learning to respond rather than react, overriding impulses and making conscious choices takes practice. It's worth the effort though, when you can read a book like you used to as a kid, or spend less time scrolling on your phone, or stay calm in traffic.
Next steps: I'm sold! Now what?
If you'd like to experience these benefits, I encourage you to have a think about what is actionable and realistic for you. Here are some suggestions:
Use the Insight Timer app and bookmark some guided meditations you want to listen to regularly (you will find a couple from me on there, just search my name!) and plan when you will do this.
Choose an activity you already do, such as drinking tea, walking or having a shower and set the intention to do make this an active meditation; noticing your sensations, thoughts and feelings as you do it.
Look for a mindfulness course in your area or online e.g. https://www.christophspiessens.com/
Join a mindfulness class or event. You might be interested in the Manchester Mindfulness Festival and my Mindfulness Day event (more info below)
Mindfulness Day event
New for summer 2023! This day of mindfulness is an opportunity to be inspired and reconnected to your mindfulness practice with an enjoyable and engaging day of talks, guided practice and mindful activity.
We have a special guest, May, who will lead us in a beautiful tea meditation. We'll enjoy some nature connection in the garden and eat a delicious lunch together.
Full details and tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mindfulness-day-tickets-651992676647