What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a philosophy that encourages you to live in the present moment and be non-judgemental, especially of yourself.
Being present and non-judgemental are cornerstones of mindfulness because we’ve learned that a lot of our suffering comes from regrets about our past, anxieties about our future, and biases about our present.
For example, this Harvard study found that people spend half of their day thinking about what isn’t going on around them (e.g., all the tasks they have to get to, conflicts with others, etc.). This “mind-wandering” tends to make people unhappy.
By practicing mindfulness, you learn how to:
- Explore yourself
- Challenge your ideas about the world around you
- Value your experiences
You also learn how to train your mind to think through what’s going on before responding, instead of immediately reacting to a situation.
Mindfulness is not a religion or belief system. It is a scientifically proven skill that helps you deal with your life challenges.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness has proven to help people:
- Reduce their stress and improve their mood
- Develop self-acceptance, self-esteem, and self-awareness
- Improve their memory and focus
- Build resilience to better cope with future problems
- Foster better relationships with others
- Obtain a greater sense of calm
Furthermore, through decades of research, mindfulness has been proven to help people suffering from:
- Anxiety and depression
- Chronic pain
- Substance abuse
- Even heart disease!
How is mindfulness practiced?
Mindfulness is practiced by focusing on a single thing, like your breath, your body, your thoughts, or the sounds around you. It requires consistent practice over time for results.
You can practice mindfulness while doing everyday activities like walking, eating, doing a chore, or brushing your teeth. The key is to pay attention to whatever you’re doing, and avoid passing judgment on any thoughts or feelings that come up and distract you.
Some ways you can practice mindfulness is by:
- Spending time in nature
- Sensing the flow of your breath going in and out of your body, lungs, and belly
- Noticing the colour, texture, and taste of the food when you’re eating
- Noticing how your feet feel on the ground and the air on your skin while walking
- Observing and accepting any thoughts that pop up without reacting to them
- Gently bringing awareness back to the activity when your mind wanders
- Practicing how not to judge others, or your own thoughts and feelings
If you have had past trauma, practicing mindfulness and meditative practices may increase your feelings of anxiety and have those traumas resurface. It is important to begin your practice with grounding and calming exercises and seek professional support before trying mindfulness on your own.
What are different types of mindfulness-based programs?
There are three main types of mindfulness programs:
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) helps people manage stress (i.e., chronic pain, personal crises, high blood pressure) and by doing yoga, body scans, and meditation
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) teaches people to focus on and observe thoughts without passing judgment so reactions become less automatic. It helps with depression, anxiety, addictions, etc.
Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) helps people with addictions (e.g., substance abuse, gambling, etc.) by building their ability to avoid relapse through mindful eating, body scans, mindful breathing, mindful walking, etc.
Mindfulness can be practiced on your own, with a counselor, or in group therapy. Before you decide how you want to start your practice, do your research!
Where can I get more information on mindfulness?
Check out these resources to learn more about mindfulness and how you can start practicing:
- CAMH’s list of mindfulness programs in toronto
- A 12-week holistic arts-based program that teaches mindfulness in creative ways
- YouthREX toolkit with activities and exercises to support mindfulness (pg. 14-19)
- GROW meditations
- Central Toronto Youth Services Connections Group, a 12-week in-person program in Toronto