What is mindfulness and how is it related to wellness? Well, in simple terms mindfulness is awareness! It is our ability to be fully present in the moment we are in, aware of what is happening around us and what is happening within us, while accepting our experience as is without judgment! Professor Jon Kabat Zin (founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School) and developer of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) program) defines it as “… paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” It is a purposeful attention that gives us the opportunity to pause, reflect and then decide how to act, creating a space within us to respond rather than react.
Mindfulness has been shown to have significant psychological and physiological benefits when properly taught and practiced such as:
• Reduced stress and anxiety
• Improved emotional regulation
• Enhanced wellbeing and positivity
• Improved self-awareness
• Increased empathy and compassion
• Enhanced interpersonal relationships
• Improved creativity, focus and clarity
On the other hand, wellness is “A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – The World Health Organization. Which tells us that wellness is a conscious development of the self as a whole, and this is where mindfulness comes into play! We need awareness to be able to look at our lives closely, notice the patterns of unproductive behaviors and choices that we make in various aspects of our lives which are holding us back from living a life of wellbeing and happiness. Once we start practicing mindfulness, we become more able to dig deep and observe ourselves in a non-judgmental way, and consequently creating a space for change! Simply because mindfulness helps us calm what we call our “monkey mind” or “wondering mind” and when our thoughts start to settle, we become more aware of what needs to change!
The more we practice mindfulness, the more we exercise that muscle of awareness, that allows us to cultivate an attentiveness for changes in our emotional and physical sensations. These changes are signs and an indication of how we feel in our body and in our mind, which may go unnoticed when we are operating in a mechanical and unmindful way (aka autopilot mode). If these signs are negative which indicate an imbalance, we are then able to take a closer look and notice the areas in our lives that need more attention and care because we now understand and feel the effects of neglecting a specific area!
Wellness is a journey that requires a high level of self-awareness and ability to search for the appropriate methods that make us healthier and happier human beings! There is a deep level of commitment to self-care that is needed and a responsibility towards oneself and wellbeing that is essential on this ever-changing path to wellness. The work is internal as no one can help us unless we are ready to help ourselves, wellness is a personal responsibility that requires effort and discipline!
But more importantly and what mindfulness helps us develop is compassion towards ourselves! Compassion is at the heart of mindfulness and is much needed on this journey to wellness. We have to repeatedly and empathetically create an intention to be present and stay focused on our wellness goals, not allowing our mind to go into the negative self-talk of “I can’t, it’s hard, nothing is changing, it’s not working, etc…” and when it does we need to gently acknowledge that it did and kindly turn our attention back to what is working and replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones like “ I am doing my best, I am making progress, look how far I’ve come, I have accomplished a lot since I started, I can do this, I can change, I am capable etc…”!. Rewiring our brain is a process of repeated conscious awareness of noticing negative thoughts when they start to rise
and making the effort to turn them into neutral or positive ones.
Therefore, mindfulness is essential for wellbeing as it brings about the awareness needed for change to happen, by allowing us to notice what is no longer serving us and cultivating the self-compassion needed to stay committed to the path of wellness!