What is mindfulness?
Take a moment and consider what you're doing at this very second. Sure, you're reading the words on a screen of some sort. But where are you sitting? What do you see and hear and smell around you? What were you doing just a moment before? What is your intent here? How do you feel right now? Essentially, this is a small example of the practice of mindfulness, which involves sustaining a present moment awareness of your feelings, physical sensations, thoughts, and surroundings. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation, but has spread in recent years as a secular practice. And that is a key word: it is a practice, or something that can be consciously and continuously worked on; we can all continue to improve our mindfulness, all throughout our lives. It is about being attentive, noting and observing the present — without judging it as “good or bad” or as “right and wrong.”The goal is acceptance of your current state, intentionally setting aside the past or future to more fully experience and understand both your present moment and yourself.
Recent research suggests mindfulness improves well-being and resilience. Mindfulness increases positive emotions, while simultaneously assisting individuals in the handling of stress and overwhelming emotional states. Research also suggests that mindfulness can help individuals to be more compassionate to others — and towards themselves— while also strengthening attention skills, memory, and focus. Mindfulness can even improve relationships, bringing each partner closer through the increased experience of optimism, acceptance, and relaxation. Mindfulness has been utilized in the treatment of eating disorders through the practice of mindful eating, which supports individuals in attaining healthier eating habits.
The practice of mindfulness is often associated with meditation, but mindfulness meditation is only one of a variety of ways to approach it. Simple mindful breathing is an excellent place to begin a mindfulness practice, especially when you feels flooded or overwhelmed by strong emotions. Also, intentionally and consciously noting and observing your experience in the moment, focusing on the physical senses of sound, sight, and smell, can help individuals achieve a sense of calm in the midst of emotional distress. By recognizing the fleeting and transitory experience of thoughts and feelings (impermanence), you can gain personal insight and begin to defeat unwanted negative thought patterns and emotional states of mind.
Mindfulness with Children and Teens
It's never too early (or too late) to start practicing mindfulness. Research on mindfulness with children and teens has increased at an accelerated rate in the past five years. Findings indicate that mindfulness with children and adolescents improves attention skills, focus, self-control, self-compassion, and self-esteem, while supporting well-being and resilience. Preliminary study results have also illustrated the benefits of mindfulness with children and teens in coping with depression and anxiety. Introducing mindfulness practices with children usually begins with shorter durations and can be more creative, tactile, and playful than it is with adults. Perhaps young children find it easier to become absorbed in their present moment, actions, and surrounding — something we would all do well to emulate.