. We can define mindfulness as the ability of the mind to be present and aware at a given moment, with an attitude of acceptance of the here and now. It is a state of consciousness that involves attending to internal and external experience, in an instant in which body and mind are synchronized in the present.
Scientific evidence shows us that this state of mind has a decisive influence on our overall well-being, since it produces a deep state of physiological rest and a mental state of calm and tranquility.
Mindfulness is considered as what emerges when you pay deliberate and non-judgmental attention to the present moment, consciousness, which we can consider as the great container of all mental phenomena, such as thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. Through this attention of the present, we can relate in a non-judgmental and caring way with internal and external events, which gives us calm.
In reality, there are few moments in which we fully embrace our present experience. Generally our attention is very unstable; the mind is full, reactive, lost in multiple thoughts that most of the time distract us from the present, disturb us, worry us, or even overwhelm us. Being so active at all hours, flickering from one thing to another, functioning with our body in one place and our mind in another. This form of mental activity, in which there is no rest, generates enormous stress and exhaustion on a mental and physical level.
We oscillate about the things that have already happened or those that are going to happen, this being one of the main cognitive processes of many psychological illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, avoiding the present moment and with the futile hope that at some later moment we will find better situations.
Mindfulness allows us to move to a mental functioning in which our mind rests in the present, learning to connect with our body and to inhabit the only moment in which we really live, that is, this moment, the here and now.
This capacity of the mind is cultivated and revealed through the practice of “mindfulness-meditation”, a discipline from the Buddhist tradition, as well as other non-formal meditation exercises. Mindfulness-meditation cultivates introspection, that is, the exploration of the constantly changing contents of the mind.
Through mindfulness exercises, in which we consciously return to our present experience over and over again, we develop the ability to focus our mind on an object or to remain open to whatever arises in our current experience without the mind jumping from one thought to another.
In this way we can observe how thoughts, sensations and emotions arise and fade, understand how our mind works, know and accept ourselves better. This is what will allow us, later, to relax and modify the habitual mental patterns that cause us suffering.
The benefits of this capacity of sustained awareness, especially in moments of emotional exhaustion, is a very powerful tool and it is a skill that can be learned. Multiple investigations have shown that the practice of mindfulness prevents and attenuates the stress response and anxiety states, increases the capacity for emotional self-regulation and cognitive flexibility, while improving self-acceptance, self-esteem and the quality of relationships.
At our brain level
Observing, in addition, changes and improvements in immune functioning and in brain structure. Thanks to neuroscience, we are beginning to learn about the changes that occur at the brain level when we regularly practice mindfulness.
There has been evidence of an increase in the activity of the left prefrontal cortex with respect to the right, which is a pattern frequently observed in the happiest people and oriented towards approaching experiences instead of avoiding them, the decrease in the activity of the amygdala, which is the brain area responsible for stress, fear and anxiety responses, or the thickening of gray matter in brain areas related to learning, working memory, self-awareness and emotional regulation.
Fight against disease
Mindfulness-meditation has proven to be of great help in patients with chronic physical illnesses, as well as psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety. But there are many people who do not suffer from significant physical or mental problems, and yet they can also benefit greatly when they start practicing mindfulness.
To answer if this practice could benefit you in any way, ask yourself these questions:
Are you able to do many tasks at the same time, but you feel unable to be fully in the here and now? Are you usually fully aware of the present moment, or do you often have difficulty concentrating on what is happening? Does it often happen that you only become aware of signs of physical tension or discomfort when they become painful?
Do you usually walk or drive on “autopilot”, without paying attention to what happens during the journey and sometimes arriving at the site almost without realizing it? Do you often rack your brains, worrying about things that have already happened or have not yet happened? Do you sometimes wonder why you don’t feel better even if not having big problems; Can you do something about it?
When you experience a difficult emotion, are you immediately aware of it and able to calm it down, or do you often react automatically and not realize it until later? Do these automatic reactions often create difficulties in your personal relationships? Can you calmly stay with the emotional discomfort, without reacting, trying to avoid it or doing something different to stop feeling bad?
On many occasions, would you wish that your children learned to better regulate their impulses, to attend and learn better, to stop and decide before acting, to be kinder and more receptive, and to relate better to others?
A tool for everyone
By now, you will have noticed that practicing mindfulness is good for all of us. Learning to practice mindfulness can offer us adequate guidance and orientation to achieve full attention, trying to extract the greatest potential and the ability to live and enjoy the present, helping you at the same time not to lose sight of what is essential and relevant in our lives.