Mindfulness can be an immensely beneficial practice in many regards. IF you’re new to meditation and mindfulness practice, you may be curious about why meditation is useful. Sometimes knowing the benefits of mindfulness can help us actually want to start practicing. It can be overwhelming when practicing mindfulness for beginners, as we’re not quite sure why we’re doing it at all. Understanding what mindfulness is and how it is beneficial, we allow ourselves the opportunity to deeply investigate this practice.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a word that comes from the Pali word sati. Mindfulness is the quality of awareness and presence with whatever is going on for us. It’s important to understand that there’s a difference between mindfulness as a practice and as a quality. As a quality, mindfulness is a state of mind in which we’re present and aware. Mindfulness also incorporates some quality of nonjudgement, as we learn to be with experience with acceptance and curiosity. We can have mindfulness in formal meditation, or in our actions and lives throughout the day.
Whatever we are doing, we practice being present for it and simply observing it. As we continue to observe experience, we begin to familiarize ourselves more and more with the mind. We recognize things like anger and anxiety more quickly, are able to see the mind’s reactions, and are able to choose how we respond moving forward.
As a practice, mindfulness meditation is the practice of continually bringing the mind back to the present moment. When we practice, we may not feel present or peaceful in every moment. Mindfulness is a training, and it takes time to train the mind to see clearly and respond. The mind wanders, we beat ourselves up, and it’s not always easy. This is normal, and part of the path of cultivating mindfulness!
Mindfulness practice has been found in recent years to not only have positive effects on the mind, but also be helpful with the body. Here are a few ways that mindfulness can benefit us physically.
Lowering Blood Pressure
A 2013 study found that mindfulness can actually lower your blood pressure. This study was done with individuals already suffering from high blood pressure, and found that mindfulness-based stress reduction significantly lowered blood pressure in study participants. Lowering our blood pressure can help decrease risk of heart attack, stroke, and many other cardiovascular diseases.
Helping with Pain
Mindfulness meditation has been found to help reduce pain. According to a 2011 study, individuals experienced forty percent less pain after meditating, and found the pain to be 57 percent less unpleasant. This study may point toward the way we interact with discomfort, and how mindfulness practice can truly help us change our relationship to what is happening.
In one of my favorite studies, researchers found that mindfulness-based stress reduction was effective in increasing physical energy and mental focus in individuals. The same study also found an increase in psychological wellbeing and present-time awareness, and a decrease in stress levels, depression, neuroticism, binge eating, and pain.
Psychological Benefits of Mindfulness
Multiple studies have found that mindfulness is an effective treatment for depression similar to anti-depressants. This 2016 study found that people who went through mindfulness-based cognitive therapy programs were 31 percent less likely to suffer from depression during the next five years than those that did not. Although mindfulness is not a cure-all for depression, it may help certain individuals recover!
A meta analysis of multiple studies found that mindfulness was effective at reducing anxiety among study participants. The beautiful part about this analysis was that it found that improvements were present regardless of year, number of treatment sessions, and gender, and the benefits were present for months and years after.
Mindfulness can help fight insomnia as well, and improve sleep overall. A 2015 study published in the JAMA Network found that mindfulness meditation improves sleep quality in adults with sleep disturbances. This study found that mindful awareness practices were more effective than other methods of education and treatment for sleep problems, and suggests that mindfulness practice can improve sleep among people that experience insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
These are just a few examples of ways that mindfulness practice can be beneficial. The power of pausing is real, and we can truly benefit from taking up this powerful practice. As we practice, we often find many benefits for ourselves. Try investigating some mindfulness meditations and see what benefits you see from your practice!