By Linsey Harrison, MD, Psychiatrist
Most of us spend too much of our lives lost in thought, more often thinking about life instead of experiencing it. We end up missing out on the moment-to-moment richness of life. Our constant thinking, planning, and worrying can make it impossible to wholeheartedly enjoy a meal or listen to a concert, to relax while on vacation, to fully listen to our spouse or child, or to fall back asleep in the middle of the night.
Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and actions – in the present moment – without judging or criticizing yourself or your experiences. It is an awareness that emerges through ‘paying attention on purpose.’ It is a valuable skill that has been taught for thousands of years in many of the world’s religions. In the 1980s, Jon Kabat-Zinn began using nonreligious mindfulness skills to help hospital patients cope with chronic pain. Mindfulness techniques have been incorporated into various modern forms of psychotherapy, and it is highly valued in the medical and psychological community. Scientific research shows that mindfulness meditation can lessen the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain, and increase feelings of relaxation and happiness. Several methods exist, including progressive muscle relaxation exercises and mindful breathing exercises, but perhaps more important is practicing mindfulness during everyday life, such as being aware of the taste and texture of the food we eat, experiencing every moment using all of our senses.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness meditation, visit Your Health Guide on our website and type “mindfulness” in the Search area. Also, a great deal of information is available online for free, including YouTube videos, blogs, and other websites. Numerous books exist to provide examples of mindfulness exercises and other ways of exploring this meditation technique.