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Jan 05

Mindfulness: What it Means, Part 1

Engaging Mindfully, Not Mindlessly, in Everyday Life

These days, the term mindfulness has become part of our cultural vernacular. Most people have a general sense of what mindfulness means, such as it being the practice of staying focused on the present moment.

To truly understand the powerful impact of practicing mindfulness in everyday life, however, it is helpful to know the inherent difference between living mindfully and mindlessly.

Living a mindful existence involves a sense of focus and purpose that is in alignment with your reality. This practiced awareness of the senses and consciousness can lead to living a more productive, truth-based life. Mindlessness, on the other hand, is like being on autopilot all day, allowing the flow and distractions of the day to carry you aimlessly through. Living life mindlessly, based on entrenched habits or old perceptions that haven’t been updated, ignores the inner voice that could allow personal growth to transpire.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness originated about 2,500 years ago as a spiritual practice rooted in Buddhist traditions and teachings. In the U.S. mindfulness was first introduced in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zim, the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the medical school at University of Massachusetts. Kabat-Zim was able to introduce the practice of mindfulness to the mainstream culture by downplaying its Buddhist roots and focusing instead on its significant role in reducing stress levels. His definition of mindfulness described it as “a means of paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

The practice of mindfulness has been shown to actually make changes in the body’s chemical production and hormone levels, positively impacting general wellness. In fact, a 2014 University of Minnesota brain imaging study of mindfulness practitioners demonstrated that eight regions in the brain are altered as a result. These particular brain regions are associated with thoughts and emotions, body awareness, memory, and emotional regulation.

To practice mindfulness involves some training. Mindfulness involves the human consciousness, the ability to what is experiencing and feeling in real time. Our busy, hyper-stimulated lifestyles do now allow much opportunity to experience self-awareness; these opportunities need to be purposefully created. Mindfulness training will walk the individual through the steps and various forms of practicing a mindful life.

How Practicing Mindfulness Can Improve Your Quality of Life

Mindfulness is the purposeful practice of paying attention to our sensory, mental, and emotional states of being. Mindfulness meditation involves devoting an hour or so of quiet time to explore our truth, our consciousness. Finding a quiet space, the meditation experience can be enhanced with soft spa music, candlelight, and scents that augment the sensory aspects of the mindfulness session. Spending quiet time focused only on your breathing and the feelings and thoughts experienced in the moment can lead to new awareness and increased joy.

Mindfulness is not to be limited by space or time, however. Mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day. Some of these techniques include:

  • Mindful breathing.

    Find a quiet moment to stop what you’re doing and practice 3-5 slow deep breaths while focusing on the breathing. Feel the sensations of your lungs filling with air, and count as you slowly exhale. Taking short breaks to practice mindful breathing can immediately diminish feelings of anxiety and stress throughout the day.

  • Mindful writing.

    Journaling can corral your thoughts and emotions long enough to express what you are feeling and experiencing at that moment in writing. You can schedule one day a week where you commit to journaling for a half hour or so, or you can just scribble words of affirmation and encouragement to yourself on a daily basis randomly.

  • Mindful walking.

    Purposeful mindful walking can be practiced at a certain time each day, or even as you walk through your regular workday. While walking, pay attending to the sensations of the strides, of your breathing, and attempt to rein in your thoughts to concentrate on the walking, even counting the steps you take.

  • Mindful listening.

    How often are we only partially listening to someone’s words when they speak to us? Mindful listening involves giving the person all of your focus and attention. Look at their eyes when they speak and really hear their words. Pay attention to your own emotional and physical response as they are talking.

  • Mindful activity.

    How many times do our days get away from us, with distractions and noise throwing us off course? By practicing mindful activity you are paying attention to the task you are undertaking and avoiding any interference that could divert your attention.

The practice of mindfulness has become a popular adjunct treatment element in many programs that treat mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders, or wellness programs. This is due to the relaxation effects of the practice of mindfulness, as well as its ability to deliver powerful insights that can promote acquiring new coping skills. The practice of mindfulness also enhances stress reduction, stress being a trigger for many disordered behavioral responses.

Life can be complicated, messy, and rarely progresses in a straight line.  PeoplePsych is a Chicago-based psychotherapy group that treats adults seeking profound change in their lives.  We provide services that affirm the dignity, worth, and value of all individuals. We strive to create a safe non-judgemental space for clients to explore the issues that bring them. To connect with one of our therapists, please contact our Clinical Coordinator at (312) 252-5252 or