Mindfulness practice, combined with the other things I do, improve many areas of our lives. In fact, it can even transform lives.
In this article, I will first share what mindfulness practice is. I will then follow with the proven benefits of mindfulness based on research.
Next, I will explain the benefits of mindfulness combined with the other strategies I do, based on my own experience, and finally benefits that some of my students and clients have experienced. And at the end of this article, I will provide a surprise bonus! Although this is a long article, I do encourage you to read the whole thing, as this could be a very positive new start in your life!
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of our 5 senses and mind. It is the awareness of our body sensations, sound, sight, smell and taste, as well as thoughts and emotions.
Here is an experiment. Take a moment to be mindful of your body sensations. Can you feel the sensation of your body touching your chair?
If you can, you just have been mindful! It’s that simple.
Or can you remember a time when you were drinking some coffee, smelling and tasting the coffee, and feeling pleasurable sensations in your body?
That was mindfulness too!
Mindfulness can be practiced anytime, anywhere. You can be mindful while sitting still with your eyes closed, or you can practice it in daily life, such as when waiting in a queue, having a walk outside, or even while washing your face in the morning!
Mindfulness brings us into the present moment. Whatever we recognize through the 5 senses, thoughts and emotions is happening now.
Take a moment to investigate. Again, feel the sensations of your body touching the chair.
It can only happen right now.
If you are thinking about what you had for dinner yesterday, that memory of dinner yesterday (the past) is happening now. If you are thinking of what you are going to have for breakfast tomorrow (the future), that thought is happening now.
So we are always in the present moment! Mindfulness is the practice of being consciously in the present, by being mindful/aware of what is happening.
Here is another experiment. Listen to the sounds around you. What can you hear?
Maybe it’s the sound of people, cars, birds, the fan; any answer is ok.
Congratulations! You just have been mindful again!
So, to repeat myself, mindfulness is being aware of any of your 5 senses or mind. Mindfulness can be practiced any time of the day. One of the common problems amongst people is that they think too much. Mindfulness reduces our thoughts by bringing the mind into the present moment.
That’s the starting point!
Benefits based on research:
The following are proven benefits of mindfulness based on research:
- Decreased stress in adults
- Improved mental health
- Increased self-control and emotion regulation
- Decreased depression, anxiety and worry
- Reduced incidence of drinking problems
- Improved relational and social skills
- Reduced burnout symptoms in employees
- Decrease in turnover at work
- Improved job performance
- Improved skills in coping with bullying
- Students improve in academic achievement, due to improved focus and attention
- Improved resilience in children
- Reduction in problem behaviours and aggression in children
My Own Experience
Not to sound too dramatic, but mindfulness, combined with other strategies, have literally changed my life. I first started practicing mindfulness when I was a student at Leeds University in England, around 1996. I was having problems focusing on my studies as I was having too much fun! I failed my first set of my exams. In fact, I even got a “G” in one of my papers, which meant that I got negative marks!
I knew I had to do something about my situation. I read a book on mindfulness, and started practicing daily. Subsequently, most of my grades increased to B’s and above, and I passed my first year!
Since then, I have practiced various forms of meditation and other methods. In 2012, I committed myself to developing my mindfulness practice, practicing sitting mindfulness, and being mindful as much as possible as I went about my day (mindfulness can be practiced anytime, you don’t have to be sitting down with your eyes closed to practice).
As I write this, 6 years later, I have been to many retreats, and have progressed very much in my mindfulness practice, as well as learned powerful new strategies along the way. Due to my mindfulness practice and other strategies, I have developed a much clearer mind, I can handle stress better, worry less, get angry less, and feel more whole. I have realized that happiness depends less on our external conditions but more on our internal mental state. I also am more kind and compassionate, and generally, happier!
The Experiences of My Clients
Before we start, please note that if you are on prescription medication for mental illness, mindfulness is not a substitute for medication. Please consult your doctor for any advice on medication. Also, if you have a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, please consult your doctor before practicing mindfulness.
The following are true stories of my students and clients. I have changed their names to protect their privacy. One of the first clients that comes to my mind is a client, Alice, with dysthymia, which is a mental illness like depression, although less intense. She came to a depression support group that I facilitated. She shared that she was very emotional, often tired, sometimes angry, sometimes terrified (what contributed to this was that she had been a victim to snatch thefts at least twice). She didn’t dare drive as it would make her feel very anxious. She had a low mood (she felt “down”, and tired often) and was suffering a lot. She was on medication prescribed by her doctor for her symptoms.
One of the interventions that I recommended to her was mindfulness. Over the period of over a year, she started practicing mindfulness and other coping strategies. It eventually became a way of life for her. Her mood became more stable, she found more happiness within, and began driving again! Her doctor even reduced the dosage of her medication.
Three other interesting cases are that of my students from my 8 week mindfulness classes (8 classes, once a week). Two of these students suffered from bi-polar depression (a form of mental illness characterised by intense happiness and high levels of energy, followed by deep depression, low energy and self-blame). Let’s call them Lim and Jane. Jane had practiced mindfulness for many years but it seemed to make things even worse. She had a habit of scolding everyone around her (including her husband!), and had not been able to let go of her anger for many years.
Lim appeared normal when I taught him, but had a history of bi-polar disorder in the past. He came with his wife (Amy), who was feeling anxious about her teenage son. Both Lim and Amy came into class looking very serious, perhaps even troubled.
I worked with these 3 students over about 2 months, tailor making the classes to their special needs. My relatively deep experience in this practice gave me insight into how the mind works and how to train it in a correct way. Amazingly, after 8 weeks, Jane had let go of her anger and became a wise and very compassionate person. I met her later and she did look like she was a “light” to others, by being very kind and helpful. She was now bringing happiness to others.
Lim had an increase in his energy levels in a stable way, was less serious, and happier. I encouraged him to continue his practice so as to maintain the benefits that he had experienced. Amy was no longer so anxious about her son, and was able to smile while driving on the road! Toward the end of the 8 weeks, it was wonderful to see Lim and Amy come in to class with big smiles on their faces, a far cry from their serious faces in the beginning.
There was another interesting case, which was this man, let’s call him Simon, who was working in the corporate sector. He came into my 8 week program so that he could handle stress better and have more peace of mind. For the first 1-2 weeks, he practiced as I requested, but did not experience any noticeable benefits. I encouraged and supported him, asking him to continue to practice. Soon after, he experienced benefits, feeling more relaxed, calm and happy. He continued to practice and mindfulness transformed his life. He is still grateful to me to this day.
There are many other cases of my mindfulness students who have experienced deep benefits. If you are interested, some of them can be read in the Testimonials section of this website.
So above is an introduction to mindfulness, and information on the many benefits of mindfulness, seen from the perspective of research, my experiences, and that of some of my clients. I hope that these will inspire you to learn and practice mindfulness. Do contact me if you would like to come for a counselling session, or join my 8 week class!
If you are interested in practicing mindfulness, here are instructions to start a sitting mindfulness practice. These tips are usually given to people who come for my mindfulness classes free preview. I am now making them available online!
Mindfulness Tips for Sitting Practice
- Find a quiet spot and tell others not to disturb you.
- Put your phone on airplane mode or on silent.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
- You can sit on a chair or on the floor. Either one is ok.
- If you sit on the floor, sit on a mat or carpet. It helps to have a cushion or two underneath you to provide support.
- Sit with your back straight. Try not to lean backwards on anything.
- Close your eyes or keep them open, gazing slightly downwards.
- Relax your body.
- If you are a beginner, 10 to 15 minutes of mindfulness is enough.
- Be aware of the sensations of breathing. On the in-breath, the air coming into your nostrils, then down to your throat, chest, and your belly rising. On the out-breath, the sensation of the air flowing out through your chest, then out through the throat and the nostrils.
- Take your time. Sit as if you have the whole day. Relax. Be patient.
- Don’t expect anything. Treat the whole thing as an experiment. Observe for yourself what happens.
- Be kind to yourself. If your mind wanders, gently return to your breathing.
- Tip for advanced meditators: Accept everything that comes up. Be aware of thoughts, feelings and sensations non-judgmentally.