The concept of mindfulness has become increasingly popular in recent decades, with its status shifting from marginal to mainstream over the years, even though its origin can be traced back thousands of years with its roots in Buddhism (Forbes). We hear about mindfulness everywhere now, with practices ranging from mindful eating to mindfulness meditation. According to research, both public and academic interest in mindfulness has increased exponentially in the past decade (SAGE Publications). Far from being just a trend or buzzword, mindfulness is a practice that has indisputable impacts (for better or worse) on its followers.
Mindfulness appears to be a cure-all; with the surge in studies regarding mindfulness, researchers have painted an optimistic picture of it and delineated its benefits, while businesses have incorporated it into employees’ programs to better manage their stress. In 2019, the British government even introduced mindfulness as a subject in up to 370 English schools, as part of a research study focused on improving youth mental health (New York Times). But what exactly is mindfulness and is it really all that it claims to be?
Definition of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a state of mind generally defined as being fully present in the current moment and being aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment (Mindful). It involves observance and an accepting, non-judgmental disposition towards these observations (Greater Good Science Center). Mindfulness can be practised in a myriad of ways like mindfulness meditation, mindful eating, observing our thoughts and emotions, or simply trying to be fully present in the moment (Huffpost, Mindful).
Importance of Mindfulness
Why is mindfulness important and why should we try to practise it? In today's age of endless distractions and instant gratification, it can be easy to slip into a perpetually distracted state as losing focus becomes all too familiar to us. With countless notifications from our phones to eye-catching advertisements demanding our attention everywhere, it can be hard to buckle down and truly focus on a task at any given time.
Mindfulness helps bring our awareness or consciousness back to the present moment and allows us to focus on our emotions and thoughts. Furthermore, mindfulness has also been shown by numerous studies to be beneficial to one's mental and physical health in different ways.
Benefits to Mental Health
1. Reduced rumination
Mindfulness has been shown to reduce rumination, which is the process of dwelling on the same negative thoughts and is detrimental to mental health (American Psychological Association).
2. Stress reduction
Many studies have shown that mindfulness-based therapy and mindfulness meditation reduces stress. Focusing on the present moment can also reduce the level of cortisol, the stress hormone (American Psychological Association, Greater Good Science Center, Psych Central, Healthline).
3. Boosts to working memory
Mindfulness meditation can improve working memory, a cognitive system that temporarily stores and manages information required for reasoning and decision-making (American Psychological Association).