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How can learning mindfulness principles develop a strong foundation for your meditation practice? There’s no doubt that you’ve heard of mindfulness. It’s difficult to watch the news, read a magazine, or surf the web without running across the topic of mindfulness.
You’ve probably heard about all the wonderful benefits. But perhaps you’re a little fuzzy about what it actually is. Everyone seems to have their own perspective. Many people know it’s related to Buddhism. But who has time to go live in a monastery in Tibet or Sri Lanka?
Do you need a meditation pillow to practice mindfulness?
Do you need to wear a robe, chant, and meditate for hours on end?
Do you have to shave your head and swear an oath of poverty and chastity?
The good news is that you don’t need to possess or do anything beyond having a willingness to slow down and focus. When you practice mindfulness, you’ll feel better and realize numerous mental, physical, and spiritual benefits. And, it won’t even cost you a dime.
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Many average people are using mindfulness principles to accomplish amazing things. You can do it, too. But before we go any further, a definition might be helpful.
“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental
is the harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the
courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” – Pema Chödrön
What is Mindfulness?
If you were to ask 10 different individuals for a definition of mindfulness, you’ll likely get 10 different answers. However, these two definitions of mindfulness are very well-respected and commonly quoted:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
In practical terms, mindfulness principles are simply paying attention to your environment, activities, and thoughts. Ideally, your only thoughts are only of your environment and whatever it is you’re doing. But if you do have other thoughts, the recommended course of action is to simply bring your attention back to the present.
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For example, if you’re mowing the grass, your thoughts ought to be related to cutting the grass or those things you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel while you’re doing it. Ideally, you’re not thinking about your unpaid bills, relationship issues, the past, or the future.
The idea and practice of mindfulness have been around for thousands of years, but it has only become a mainstream topic in the West over the last few years. This is mostly due to the amazing medical benefits that have been discovered recently. Understandably, some people are confused about the differences between mindfulness principles and meditation. Mindfulness is a type of meditation, but it also differs.
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it
were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will);
being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz
The Difference Between Meditation and Mindfulness
We’re all familiar with the image of Buddhist monks or other spiritual folks sitting motionless on big pillows, in seemingly uncomfortable positions, for extended periods of time. It might look interesting to some, but it’s rarely described as fun.
To a large degree, meditation commonly involves removing external stimuli. Meditation is most commonly performed in very quiet, subdued surroundings. There’s little light, and after sitting motionless for a few minutes, there’s a minimal amount of tactile stimuli. Thoughts are completely focused on breathing or some other simple object or idea.
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With mediation, the goal is to limit thinking and allow the higher functions of the brain to shine through. Removing most of the stimuli makes it easier to concentrate and focus. mindfulness principles are similar to meditation but different.
Mindfulness practices are about fully living and engaging in the present, versus allowing your mind to drift off to other things. The goal is to limit your attention to your immediate environment. The belief is that it’s only possible to live in the moment. If your thoughts aren’t about your present moment, you’re not really living.
“You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests the development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
9 Benefits Of Mindfulness Principles and Being Mindful
Being mindful is beneficial in so many ways, and these benefits are only now being fully appreciated in the western hemisphere. Mindfulness benefits are being taught in prisons, schools, and the workplace. It’s even being used to treat stubborn mental illnesses with great results. It’s a truly universal tool.
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Check out some of the benefits of learning mindfulness principles:
1. It’s very relaxing. Consider that essentially all of the worry and anxiety you experience is either about past or future activities. If your mind is fully engaged in the present, it’s very difficult to feel bad. It’s also nearly impossible to think about more than one thing at a time. However, it’s still possible to switch back and forth rapidly between multiple thoughts.
If you can control your thoughts, you’ll relax, and feel much better. Studies have shown that mindfulness principles training lowers cortisol, the primary stress hormone.
2. You’ll have greater self-control. Imagine being able to say to yourself, “The garage needs to be cleaned.” Then, imagine you actually do it without all the hemming and hawing that usually occurs. How great would that be?
Mindfulness practices are excellent at removing the negative feelings associated with undesirable tasks. You’ll be able to get all those things done that you currently can’t stand doing, such as your taxes.
3. It opens your mind. If you’re truly being mindful, it’s nearly impossible to be judgmental. Suppose you meet someone new of whom you normally wouldn’t approve. Perhaps it’s someone with a tattoo on his face. Or, conversely, maybe it’s someone wearing a suit and tie. Just imagine someone that wouldn’t appeal to you based on appearance.
In a state of mindfulness, you would notice the tattoo (or suit and tie), but you wouldn’t allow your thinking to go to the next step of judging the person. In our daily lives, most of us jump to conclusions. Many of these conclusions aren’t even based on our own experiences. Have you ever actually seen someone with a facial tattoo treat others poorly? Probably only on TV. Imagine how many more people you would meet, things you would see, and experiences you would try if you stopped judging others. You’d learn so much more, and your life would be richer.
4. You’ll sleep better. Mindfulness principles research has shown that the stress-lowering properties of mindfulness extend to bedtime. Those that are practicing mindfulness have been found to have less “activation” at night. This is a fancy way of saying they have less negative emotional arousal at bedtime. Of course, that helps them sleep better!
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5. Other health benefits. The practice of mindfulness lowers the incidence of depression in multiple demographics, lessens feelings of loneliness, boosts the ability to fight colds, enhances weight loss success, and decreases the odds of developing mental illnesses.
It even lowers blood pressure and increases the tolerance for pain. Those with irritable bowel syndrome find their symptoms reduced by over 40%. The health benefits are outstanding and they’re likely the reason why you’re familiar with mindfulness principles. But for many, the other benefits are even more meaningful.
6. It increases attention. Mindfulness principles can regulate emotions and can enhance self-awareness. With fewer thoughts whizzing through your brain, it’s much easier to focus on the task at hand. And, we’ve already touched on how negative emotions are reduced. Focusing on yourself and your environment will make you more aware of your thoughts and body.
7. It has a positive impact on behavior. One study found that mindfulness principles increase compassion towards others and the likelihood of performing more “do-good” behaviors. Mindfulness can help to uncover the wonderful person lurking inside of you.
8. It lowers your medical bills. All of the health benefits derived from mindfulness principles have resulted in a decrease in medical bills. Mindfulness practically pays you.
9. It helps students, prisoners, and those in the workforce. Unless you’re retired, you likely fall into one of those categories!
Students and prisoners both exhibit better behavior. Students have also been shown to increase their standardized test scores. Mindfulness principles in the workplace result in using fewer sick days, boosting employee morale, and increasing work output. You’ll start enjoying your job more and feel better about being there.
It’s challenging to think of another activity that provides more benefits, yet costs absolutely nothing. Mindfulness truly has the capacity to enhance nearly every aspect of your life. The greatest obstacle to mindfulness principles and practices is an overactive mind. Too much thinking gets in the way.
“As we encounter new experiences with mindful and wise attention, we discover that one of three things will happen to our new experience: it will go away, it will stay the same, or it will get more intense. Whatever happens, does not really matter.” – Jack Kornfield
4 Obstacles Of Thinking Within Mindfulness Principles
The biggest difference between humans and animals is the capacity to think deeply. How many minutes each day do you spend without a thought in your head? Even while you’re sleeping, you’re still thinking about your dreams. When do our brains get a real rest? Meditation and mindfulness principles both provide relief to overworked and overstimulated brains. Our ability to think is amazing, but thinking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Thinking is probably causing you more harm than you realize.
Consider these issues with thinking:
1. The vast majority of our thoughts accomplish nothing positive. We rarely control our thoughts. While at work, we look out the window and see a balloon. That leads to thinking about the State Fair we attended with our girlfriend in high school. Then, we’re analyzing the reasons the relationship failed. All of this thinking is prompted by seeing that one balloon.
Much of our thinking is simply a free association that distracts us from being productive. We’re not very disciplined in our thinking, and we fail to use our brains in a way that’s helpful. That wonderful brain capacity is going to waste. We also focus on the past and future. One leads to regret. The other leads to worry. Neither is helpful.
Examining the past to reflect and make changes is one thing. Ruminating and making ourselves miserable is another. Taking simple mindfulness principles for daily actions to head off potential obstacles in the future is great. Worrying to the point of being paralyzed is worthless.
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2. Thinking becomes an addictive habit. Our thoughts distract us from boredom and other unpleasant mental states. We daydream when we’re stressed. We worry because it tricks us into thinking we’re doing something about the issue at hand. But keep in mind that it isn’t possible to worry a problem away.
3. It confuses our perspective. When we let our minds wander away from the present, we lose awareness of our situation because our emotions match the situation in our heads instead of being congruent with reality. If you’re unable to sleep because you’re thinking about a negative situation at work, it isn’t the situation that’s keeping you awake. It’s your inability to be present with your mindfulness principles and methods that are causing the negative thoughts.
4. Excessive thinking robs us. Notice how a child interacts with the world. Sure, a child can think and ponder when the situation calls for it. But children are very connected to their senses. Children are extremely aware of what they can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. You rarely see a child “spacing out” and living inside their head. However, it’s common to see adults lost in thought, while life is passing them by.
Thinking is our greatest strength but it can also be a major weakness. Intentional, directed thinking is incredibly powerful. Undisciplined thought is little more than a dust storm that blinds us from seeing the truth. Carefully choose the times you’re going to let your mind work on solutions.
“Mindfulness has never met a cognition it didn’t like.” – Daniel J. Siegel
8 Steps To Mindfulness Principles And Your Practice
Mindfulness principles are quite simple, but not easy. It’s important to get started and begin making progress. It’s a little like walking. There seems to be little progress until one day you stand up and suddenly you’re walking.
Practice these steps daily and watch your mindfulness grow:
1. Be aware. This means to be aware of everything in your environment, as well as everything you’re doing and thinking. Keep your focus on the present moment.
2. Avoid multi-tasking. Just do one task at a time. You’ll actually get more done, and it’s much easier to be mindful.
3. Be deliberate. Focus on what you’re doing and perform the next logical step. Keep going until the task is complete. Be focused on the task rather than getting the task over with. If you’re washing dishes, focus on washing each dish, and keep repeating until all the dishes are washed. See how enjoyable this is compared to washing the dishes and whining to yourself about how boring it is or wondering how much longer it will take.
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4. Notice your body feels. If you think about it, emotions are nothing more than body feelings that we have learned assigned a label. When your body feels a certain way, you call it “jealously,” “happiness,” “fear,” “shame,” and so on.
Because our brains don’t have the ability to feel anything, that’s why patients are frequently awake for many neurosurgery procedures. We rarely notice our bodies unless we’re in pain or ill. This is a mistake. Our bodies are one of the primary ways we experience the world. Regularly take a moment to notice what each part of your body is feeling.
5. Listen to others. What do most of us do while someone else is speaking to us? We think about what we want to say and wonder when we can say it. See if you can limit your attention to what the other person is saying. Your relationships will get better, and you’ll make more friends.
6. Seemingly mundane activities are perfect for mindfulness principles. Simple activities make it easier for our minds to wander. It’s easier to allow your mind to drift away while taking a stroll than it is while downhill skiing.
7. Mindfulness principles for walking meditation: Most of us walk quite a bit each day, but we rarely think about walking. We also don’t pay much attention to what’s going on around us. Our thoughts are primarily on whatever it is we’re walking to. While walking, notice what’s going on around you. Feel the pressure on your feet. Feel the temperature of the air on your skin. Smell the air.
8. Mindfulness principles for eating: We’re rarely aware that we’re even eating. Try a little experiment. Take an orange and eat it one piece at a time. Bite into it slowly and really take the time to savor each piece. Take a full 30 seconds for each segment. There’s a 50-50 chance you won’t even be able to finish the entire orange. It’s richer than you think.
Conclusion To Mindfulness Principles And It’s Benefits
We’ve covered an awful lot of ground in this article but hopefully, you now realize that mindfulness is much more than just a powerful form of meditation.
Sure, it is that as well, but more than this mindfulness principles simply means being more aware of your own thoughts, your own body, and your own beliefs and visualizations. When we do this, it allows us to decide how we want to feel, how we want to act, and what we want to believe. Instead of letting the body and mind be reactive to our surroundings, we instead learn to second guess ourselves and to make sure we are in the best possible state of mind and emotional state for the current situation.
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That might mean being more alert so we can focus on work. It might mean being calmer for our health and for our social interactions. It might mean being more psyched up for the gym. Or it might just mean being a bit kinder to ourselves or changing the way we speak.
Using these simple mindfulness principles is the key to unlocking the full potential of your body and mind. And when you can do that, all kinds of doors start to open up for you…