In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “ “In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” The Atlantic calls busyness the status symbol of our time”. Harvard Business Review suggests Americans link busyness with status, a shift from previous leisure-as-status beliefs.
Despite the negative impact of an overworked lifestyle on happiness, wellbeing and health, Americans pursue it voraciously. Competence, ambition and job market desirability win the day. Yet, mindfulness offers an alternative, an antidote, to cure what ails this American condition. Consider how mindfulness and meditation are ways to boost immunity.
What is Mindfulness?
Spiritual leader, Sylvia Boorstein defines it this way — “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”
In other words, the state of being mindful pauses busyness. It counters the rush which causes us to miss the details of life. Let’s look at three details of Boorstein’s definition which form a comprehensive understanding of the term and offer a meaning scientists agree with as well.
Inherent in Boorstein’s understanding of mindfulness is the practice of letting go. Releasing distractions to become aware of the present moment and focus on life’s details embodies the discipline of mindfulness. In this practice, we consciously choose to challenge our mind-habits and express gratitude for the little things often taken for granted.
Staying in the present moment proves impossible with the state of our wandering minds. Mindfulness, however, encourages a continual return to the present moment. While we cannot completely control the mind’s flitting to other thoughts or other emotions, practice enables us to use our breath and senses to come back to the present experience, as Boorstein refers to it.
Letting go and being present offer simple definitions of mindfulness. However, the particulars involved remain fuzzy. The definition developed by researchers years ago rounds out Boorstein’s understanding by getting more specific. According to the scientific community, mindfulness means regulating attention with the attitude of openness, curiosity and acceptance.
How Does Mindfulness Enhance Meditation?
Now that we understand the definition of mindfulness, how does this apply to meditation practices? Often mindfulness and meditation are thought to be one and the same, or at least inseparable. But, the truth is that you can have one without the other. Adding mindfulness to mediation practices offers the following benefits:
Reduced Stress, Anxiety and Depression
Studies, such as the one published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest anxiety, stress, depression and other psychological symptoms decrease for those practicing mindful meditation. Dr. Elizabeth Hope of the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders explains this finding — “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.” Mindfulness combined with meditation offers effective treatment options.
Boosted Creative Problem Solving
The Journal of Management reports the positive workplace effects of mindfulness. Incorporating mindfulness into meditative practices boosts resilience, helps regulate emotions and produces a positive outlook. The improved abilities to bounce back from setbacks and make balanced decisions result. Furthermore, Dr. Danny Penman’s work suggests that mindfulness meditation encourages divergent thinking, improves attention and builds courage and resilience.
Encouragement of Healthy Living
According to research, the benefits of mindfulness meditation impact general well being which impacts daily choices and activities. The Journal of Clinical Sports Psychology reports that individuals practicing these techniques experience greater motivation to exercise. And, athletes feel reduced pressure to achieve and less thought disruption along with improved confidence and flow. Plus, the partnership of mindfulness meditation and exercise shows protection against illness, according to research in the Annals of Family Medicine.
Of course, a better night’s sleep adds to the health benefits. In a study appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine, participants trained in mindfulness experienced less insomnia than those educated on ways to improve sleep habits. Symptoms of fatigue, depression and daytime impairments were also lower. The results occurred after meeting once a week for six weeks, proving years of practice are not required to see benefits.
Decreased Health Issues
Combining mindfulness and meditation offers more than mental and emotional benefits. Physical health and symptoms improve as well. The Journal of Pain published research indicating a link between these practices and reduced chronic pain. Other studies support these findings in the areas of pain reduction, chronic low back pain and more. Furthermore, the American Heart Association reports that mindfulness meditation reduces blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
What Does Mindfulness Mean to You?
The benefits of mindfulness alongside meditation speak volumes. Counteracting the busyness and the idolization of it within American culture reaps mental, emotional and physical rewards. By slowing what Tolle refers to as “today’s rush”, we are healthier as human beings.
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