Why Mindfulness Matters
Much of life is about going through the motions. Add in the demands of the holidays, and many people end up scurrying here and there in a frantic whirlwind of things to do. Unfortunately, you can get so caught up in the act of doing that you lose sight of the act of being.
Enter mindfulness. According to Psychology Today, “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.”
While the full benefits of mindfulness are still being discovered, research has identified several advantages of practicing mindfulness, including reduced rumination and fewer depressive symptoms, reduced stress, enhanced working memory, less emotional reactivity, increased cognitive flexibility, and improved relationship satisfaction.
If some or all of these things sound like they’d come in handy while you’re coping with eternal lines at the supermarket checkout counter or mediating the annual feud between Great Aunt Josie and Great Aunt Alice, then embracing mindfulness may be one of the most important things you do this season.
The Perfect One-Two Punch
The body-mind-soul benefits of exercise are widely known. Introduce mindfulness to the equation and they grow exponentially. The best part is that there are many ways to be more mindful when exercising — starting with simple walking.
Enthuses Mindful.org: “When you practice mindful breathing you simply allow your in breath to take place. You become aware of it and enjoy it. Effortlessness. The same thing is true with mindful walking. Every step is enjoyable. Every step helps you touch the wonders of life. Every step is joy….You don’t have to make any effort during walking meditation, because it is enjoyable. You are there, body and mind together. You are fully alive, fully present in the here and the now. With every step, you touch the wonders of life that are in you and around you. When you walk like that, every step brings healing.”
While yoga may first come to mind for its ability to facilitate awareness, mindfulness can also be incorporated into more vigorous forms of exercise, as well.
For example, try skipping the Hulu and headphones while running on the treadmill and instead focus on your breathing, heartbeat, the rhythm of your feet, and any tension in your body. This not only heightens your awareness of your body, but is also a good time to take inventory of your thoughts without passing judgment. The same approach can be applied to other forms of aerobic exercise, including swimming and running.
After exercising, continue to pay attention to how you feel as you go about your day. This mindfulness can lead to enhanced feelings of satisfaction, wellness, and the will to continue to prioritize working out despite your other commitment.
Research published The Journal of Health Psychology confirms this by revealing that people who were deliberately more mindful while exercising enjoyed it more and therefore wanted to exercise again. As study leader Kalliopi-Eleni Tsafou, Marie Curie Research Fellow at Utrecht University, told the New York Times of the relationship between mindfulness and exercising: “The message is that mindfulness may amplify satisfaction, because one is satisfied when positive experiences with physical activity become prominent. For those experiences to be noticed, one must become aware of them. We would argue that this can be achieved by being mindful.”
While the holidays bring to mind all things merry and bright, they can also be accompanied by bad feelings caused by everything from too many commitments to unrealistic expectations. The good news? By adding mindfulness to your holiday exercise routine, you can experience the peace of being truly present.