Of all the health techniques from the East, mindfulness meditation is the one that has the most widespread appeal in the West. It’s been written about and critiqued in all the most respected medical journals and has compelling data to back up its effectiveness.
Those suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and a whole host of other mental ailments, have all shown significant improvement through the practice of this ancient oriental health technique. But mindfulness meditation, or simply mindfulness, is more than just a mental health treatment. Buddhist practitioners consider it the one true path to enlightenment.
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Indeed, in many respects, mindfulness is just one form of meditation and psychotherapists would argue, it’s the most important form. It encompasses every aspect of our holistic well-being and its practitioners aim to spend their entire day in a state of mindfulness. That manifests itself as a calm awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings as well as one’s physical presence.
The practice has its origins in ancient India and mindfulness has many Sanskrit texts devoted to explaining its secrets. All these texts relate the same principal that mindfulness is a continuous process that should encompass our everyday lives. However, despite its ancient oriental antecedents, mindfulness is in reality very simple and accessible to all of us.
It requires the conscious awareness of the present moment—a fixation on reality as it is rather than the delusions created by the mind. In other words, it’s a clear separation between the real world and the one that our thoughts create.
Admittedly this is a state much easier to achieve for some than others, as it requires people not only to be aware of their subjective experience, but also that they not be led by their thoughts. To achieve this, mindfulness practitioners use a series of queues to bring them back to the present moment. This can be something as simple as listening to the ticking of the clock, being aware of the changing of traffic lights or the simple act of opening the door and walking through it.
All these events bring focus on the ephemeral, changing nature of reality. That in turn has a deeply therapeutic effect on alleviating the most severe symptoms of stress and anxiety that percolate beneath our thoughts on a daily basis.
Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to have a transformative effect on our physical health as well as our mental health. For instance, a recent study from the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona in Spain has found that mindfulness meditation can cause changes in the expression of genes which lead to inflammation, high blood pressure and even addiction. This correlates with other work done by neuroscientists into the real-world benefits of mindfulness meditation on our well-being.
Those new to the practice can start by setting aside 20 minutes a day in which to sit in quiet contemplation and focus purely on their physical presence in the world, usually through their breath, as well as on their thoughts. Remember, mindfulness is not about emptying your mind of all thoughts, but to allow the thoughts to come and go without adding undue emotional attachment to them.
But those wanting to experience this should not that is a lifelong practice which you must constantly pay attention to. Allowing yourself to slip out of mindfulness usually means the return of destructive self-reinforcing thought patterns which this practice is designed to prevent.