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What is Mindfulness? And What it is Not?
Mindfulness is a tool that has become exceedingly popular recently. Only a few years ago the general public would not be familiar with the term, whereas today it’s something we hear about all the time in a range of different contexts.
In some ways this is a good thing: mindfulness is a great tool to be aware of and it can be used to greatly improve your concentration, awareness and happiness. But at the same time, it’s also a bad thing: because it has been misappropriated in many instances and many people don’t actually really understand what it means anymore.
With that in mind, let’s take an in-depth look at what mindfulness is and what it isn’t – and how you can start using it to improve your life.
The Basics of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is often used to describe a type of meditation. Specifically, ‘mindfulness meditation’ is a type of meditation that involves reflecting on the contents of your own mind and how they might be affecting you. Whereas the point of some forms of meditation – such as transcendental meditation – is to completely ‘empty’ your mind, the point of mindfulness is instead to simply detach yourself from your thoughts and become an observer. This way, you can prevent them from affecting you in the same way and you can also gain a greater understanding of the contents of your own thoughts.
Often this is described as ‘watching the thoughts go past like clouds’. The idea is not to engage with them or let them affect you but simply to observe them and to later reflect on how they might impact on your happiness.
Other Uses of Mindfulness
By doing this, mindfulness allows us to take some time out of our stressful day to remove ourselves from our thoughts and thereby get some rest and relaxation.
But it’s not really just about meditation. What mindfulness also means is being constantly aware of your own thoughts as you go throughout your day. Some people will tell you to be ‘mindful’ of your body, or ‘mindful’ of your environment. But really what you should be focussing on is just what you’re mindful of.
Next time you go out for a nice walk with family, or next time you do something else that you should be enjoying, just make a note of whether you’re really focussed on what you’re doing and whether you’re actively engaging in it… or is your mind elsewhere? Are you actually worrying about work? Or stressing about other things?
Mindfulness teaches us to be more aware of our thoughts as that way, we can decide that we’re not going to let them affect us and because that way we can then make the conscious effort to refocus and to decide to be happy.
Mindfulness is not mysticism or linked to religion and it’s not a cure-all therapeutic technique. All this is a tool and better yet, a state of mind. With practice, you can learn to be more in-tune with your own thoughts and that can change everything.
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How to Breathe Correctly and What it Can do for You
The way you breathe has a huge impact on your stress levels and can do a great deal to make you more or less stressed. That’s because our breathing is deeply connected to our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and regulates the release of hormones and neurotransmitters such as cortisol, testosterone and adrenaline.
When you are stressed, your breathing quickens and becomes shallower. When you are relaxed, you breathe more deeply and fully. This correlation works both ways though – so slowing your breathing will make you less stressed and vice versa.
The key is to make sure that when you are relaxing, you are able to breathe in as deeply and fully as possible. And there are a few ways to do this.
Right now, you are probably breathing wrong. Most of us don’t give much thought to the way we breathe and as a result, we probably use bad habits.
To find out if you’re breathing incorrectly, place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Now breath normally and make a note of which hand moves first – and whether both move at all. What you might find is that the chest moves first and the stomach moves ever-so-slightly afterward.
Unfortunately, this is wrong and it won’t allow you to bring in as much breath as possible.
Instead, you should breathe first by allowing your stomach to distend, which will in turn open up the abdominal cavity. You should then breathe so that your lungs fill into this space and then move your chest. This not only allows you to bring in much more oxygen, making you feel much healthier; it also trains your transverse abdominis and encourages proper posture.
If you look at a baby or an animal, this is how they breathe naturally. So what went wrong for us? It comes down to posture again – and the fact that we spend so long sitting in front of a computer hunched over and unable to breathe from the stomach.
Trying to remember to do this is not easy which is just one more reason that mindfulness training is so valuable – you can use it to become more mindful of the way you’re breathing.
During actual meditation though, you will want to breathe as deeply and as efficiently as possible. One way to do this is to use something called ‘equal breathing’ from yoga. This involves breathing in and out through the nose and counting the seconds for both the inhalation and exhalation making sure that they are equal. Ideally, you’re trying to breathe in and out for a good 3 seconds or more, which will allow you to completely fill and them completely empty the lungs, refreshing all that important oxygen in your body.
Use this at the start of your mindfulness meditation and it will help you to become more relaxed and more focussed and will help you improve your breathing in the long term too.
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The Power of Mindfulness - Unleash Your Inner Strength