Staying Healthy Through Mindfulness

The Benefits of Mindfulness

By Lisa Condon, M.A., Psy.D.

Mindfulness

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness involves being aware of our present experience with an attitude of openness, compassion, and acceptance. It is cultivated through the practice of mindfulness meditation, but can be used in everyday situations to enhance our sense of vitality, increase our self-understanding, and help us better manage difficult experiences.

Mindfulness is:

  • Being aware and present
  • An attitude with intention, openness, acceptance and compassion
  • An attitude without judgment

Mindfulness is not:

  • Just relaxing
  • Not caring
  • Avoiding thinking or feeling

Benefits of Mindfulness

There is an increasing body of research showing that mindfulness and mindfulness meditation improves a person's health and wellbeing. An online article from the American Psychological Association (July, 2012), highlights the benefits of mindfulness meditation that have been supported by research, including:

  • Reduced stress
  • Improved working memory
  • Improved mental focus
  • Increased cognitive flexibility
  • Less emotional reactivity
  • Improved relationship satisfaction

There is also research support for benefits of mindfulness that may be of specific interest to seniors, including boosting the immune system and decreasing the experience of pain. For example, the October 2012 online journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, found that just eight weeks of mindfulness training was associated with decreased emotional stress (specifically loneliness) and improved immune functioning in people age 55-85. Research in the Journal of Neuroscience (April, 2011) found that people's perception of pain decreased by almost 50 percent after just 80 minutes of mindfulness meditation training.

Using Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Although meditation is a great way to develop mindfulness skills, you can also start practicing this type of present awareness right here, right now, as you go about your daily life. Using this type of awareness that includes both feeling and observing your experience, without judgment, can provide you with many benefits on a day to day basis.

  • Fostering a sense of vitality: While going through your day, try being fully present, fully aware of what you are doing, instead of being on auto-pilot. For instance, the next time you eat a meal, try being fully aware of all the sensations of eating. Notice the smell, look, and feel of the food. Take a moment to bring your focus to the tastes and textures you are experiencing.
  • Working through strong emotional reactions: When you are having a strong emotional reaction, take a moment to simply notice that reaction, and any other thoughts, feelings, or sensations that might accompany that reaction. Stay with that reaction, without judgment, so that you can fully feel and observe what you are experiencing, without needing to act on that experience.
  • Dealing with feelings of judgment: If you find yourself being judgmental toward yourself or someone else, try using mindfulness to cultivate an attitude of curiosity and acceptance. This shift can noticeably change how you feel and how you see things.
  • Coping with stress and over-thinking: If you tend to get stuck in your head, over-analyze, or get caught up in thinking, try using mindfulness to give yourself a break from your thinking mind, and help you get centered in your body.

Resources for Learning Mindfulness Techniques

There are many books, on-line resources, and local meditation centers that provide instruction and information about mindfulness and mindfulness meditation.

Good authors to start with include:

  • Pema Chodron
  • Thich Nhat Hahn
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn

Local meditation centers include:

In addition, the UVM Mindfulness Practice Center webpage has guided meditations that you can listen to on-line, as well as a list of mindfulness resources.

Lisa Condon, M.A., Psy.D., is a Clinical Psychologist-Master in private practice in Burlington.