“Mindfulness” seems to be everywhere. It’s being taught in schools, workplaces, faith-based centers, hospitals, respite centers and in homes all over the world. That's because it is a simple practice you can do anywhere, and in just a few minutes time. Even better, the benefits to practicing mindfulness are convincing — less stress, better sleep, energy boosting and more.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the simple practice of trying to be fully present and aware in the moment. You seek to pay attention to your inner thoughts and feelings, and to your body and the environment. It’s not a time for judgement. You accept feelings and sensations as they come to you, notice them, and let them pass. You focus on the present without it being clouded by the past or future.
To those who are new to the practice, mindfulness might not sound like much. But think of it this way — how often are you really alone with your present thoughts, and nothing more? Try to remember the last time you sat still and:
- Weren’t thinking about the future, such as when the kids need to be picked up, or what you will eat for dinner, or how early you have to get up to make it to work on time tomorrow.
- Weren’t getting pulled into thoughts of the past, like why you didn’t get that job you wanted, or whether you said the wrong thing in a tense conversation earlier.
Even if you're not thinking about the future or the past, you're still not alone with just your present thoughts because your phone is buzzing, the TV is on, your dog needs to go outside or your family is distracting you.
Being mindful means to keep your focus in the present, and notice the thoughts, feelings, and sensations your mind and body are experiencing right now. It seeks to replace the typical thoughts that fill your head about the future, past, or other parts of the present with an awareness of your emotions and your senses as they are. It sounds simple, but it can take practice to come easily — and if you haven’t practiced mindfulness before, you might wonder why it’s so important.
Benefits of practicing mindfulness
Interest in mindfulness has skyrocketed in recent years because, quite simply, it helps people feel better and stress less. In today’s hectic culture, it can be hard to find real opportunities to unplug — from computers, TVs, smart phones and social media — even for just a few moments. Mindfulness can help you make these moments for yourself. It gives you an opportunity to go off “auto-pilot” and connect with the present in a meaningful way.
There is also a huge body of research that demonstrate the benefits of integrating simple mindfulness practices into your life. Studies suggest that mindfulness practices may help people:1
- Manage stress
- Cope better with serious illness
- Reduce anxiety and depression
Additionally, people who practice mindfulness report an increased ability to relax. They feel a greater enthusiasm for life. And they say mindfulness has helped them improve their self-esteem.
How do you practice mindfulness?
There is no one right method, place or time to practice mindfulness. You can be mindful for three minutes or three hours. You can practice mindfulness in your bedroom, your car, the train or the office. You don’t need a yoga mat or any other special equipment. It doesn’t need to be as quiet as a library. You just need to be able to focus your own thoughts quietly. That makes mindfulness a perfect practice for just about anyone. It’s easy to fit into your life today — you can even do it right now.
1. Dedicate a period of time (try for two minutes or more) where you can focus on yourself. If you need a reminder, leave a post-it on your mirror, a note on your fridge, or even send yourself a calendar invite for a short mindful moment.
2. When your “mindful moment” arrives, pay attention:
- How does your body feel? Notice the "answer" you find, and then let it pass on.
- Are any thoughts coming up? Notice what they are, and then let them pass on.
- Notice your breath. Are you breathing slow or fast? Are your breaths deep or shallow? If you need to "pay attention" to anything as you practice, keep lightly focusing on your breath.
3. If your mind wanders, and it will, gently bring it back to the moment. This will happen over and over. For a long time, your mindfulness practice may not be staying in the moment — instead, it will be returning to the present over and over.
4. Move past judgements like “I can’t do this,” or, “This is silly, I have too much to do.” It’s okay to think those things, but don’t let them distract you. Notice the thought, acknowledge the thought, and set it aside. Then, return to the present.
And that’s it. Sounds easy, right? Well, not quite — but it’s called a practice because results come over time.
If you found your first mindfulness exercise helpful, or found it left you just a little more relaxed, you can try setting a new goal for yourself — perhaps two minutes a day, or five mindful minutes a day for a week… or more!
1. Xiang, E.(2016) Mindfulness in the Military. Discover Magazine (2016).
2. Allen, A. B., & Leary, M. R. (2014). Self-compassionate responses to aging. The Gerontologist, 54(2), 190–200. [p 190 / col 1 / par 1]
3. Neff, K. D. & Davidson, O. (2016). Self-compassion: Embracing suffering with kindness. In I. Ivtzan & T. Lomas (Eds.), Mindfulness in Positive Psychology (pp.37-50). Rutledge. [p9 / par 1]
4. Neff, K. D. & Davidson, O. (2016). Self-compassion: Embracing suffering with kindness. In I. Ivtzan & T. Lomas (Eds.), Mindfulness in Positive Psychology (pp.37-50). Rutledge. [p8 / par 3]
5. Neff, K. D., & Knox, M. (2017). Self-Compassion. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. Shackelford (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. New York: Springer. [p3 / col 2/ par 2]
6. Yarnell, L. M., Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-compassion, interpersonal conflict resolutions, and well-being. Self and Identity. 2:2, 146-159. [p 154 / par 5]
Reviewed by Kaiser Permanente Clinical Ambassadors, including Mark Dreskin, MD, Sharon Smith, LPC, and/or David Kane, LCSW. September 2018.
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.
Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage, Summary Plan Description or other coverage documents. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.