Decades of scientific research support mindfulness-based practices to reduce stress and improve overall mental and physical well-being. Mindfulness has gained some traction in the US and in the Western world with the research by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a program implemented in the hospital setting to help people cultivate mindfulness in order to reduce chronic pain and decrease recovery time. It’s a learned skill based on gaining better awareness of what’s going on in one’s own mind.
Richard Davidson of University of Wisconsin, has compared brain images of people engaged in mindfulness-based practices to those who do not. The practice alters the structure and functioning of the brain. People become less stressed after practicing mindfulness. The brain can silence the stress response or activate the parasympathetic response, which is the relaxation response. Mindfulness impacts a range of social, emotional and physical outcomes. Research has demonstrated a range of benefits, including better concentration and clarity in thinking, increased calmness, decreased stress and anxiety, more skillful responses to difficult situations, increased empathy and understanding of others, decreased pain in response to illness or injury, enhanced physical health and longer lifespans.
Mindfulness is the present-moment awareness, an open and friendly willingness to understand what is going on in and around us. Mindlessness is about being stuck in the past and future and not in the present moment. One needs three elements to create mindfulness: Purposeful Awareness (ability to pay attention on purpose to both what’s inside of us and outside of us in the present moment), an Open and Gentle Attitude (being friendly to yourself and the experiences you encounter internally and externally) and Intentionality (although I am noticing certain things, I can still choose to behave in a specific way). When we start to cultivate mindfulness, it as an overarching skill that helps us become resilient. We have to be patient. Like learning a new language or playing an instrument, mindfulness practices takes time.
His holiness the Dalai Lama said: “The motivations of man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money, then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health, and then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present – the result being that he does not live in the present nor the future, rather he lives as if he is never going to die, and then eventually he dies, having never really lived.”
Daily routines can be turned to a mindful activity such as making the bed, brushing your teeth, showering, eating or driving. When we take the edge of stress off of our lives, we can achieve greater psychological and physical well-being. And those are the ingredients that lead us to becoming a resilient person.