Mindfulness for Mental Wellbeing
Before it was a trendy buzzword plastered all over colouring books and before it sparked the growth of a huge global industry, mindfulness was, in fact, an organic and ancient wellness practice focussed on living a more present, open and aware life. Not only can it improve self-awareness, it’s also a conduit for focus, resilience, stress reduction as so much more. And it’s these authentic, person-centric, research-backed roots that we incorporate into all that we do here at New Life Portugal.
In fact, we’re firm in the belief that mindfulness – or mindful living – is key to achieving and maintaining optimum mental wellness.. But if your definition of the term and all it encompasses is a little cloudy, allow us to break down everything you need to know about mindfulness, from what it is, to how it can positively impact your mental wellbeing.
What is mindfulness?
According to Marina Neumann, Program Manager at New Life Portugal wellness retreat, mindfulness is a mental state of presence. “It is much more than just paying attention; it is about being aware, not living on autopilot,” she explains. “Today we see everyone doing an excess of things, with their mind elsewhere. A short definition of mindfulness is getting off autopilot to be in a state of awareness.”
According to Mindfulness Initiative, a UK-based policy institute focussed on bringing mindfulness and compassion training into the mainstream: “Mindfulness is an innate human capacity that enables people to intentionally focus on what they experience in the moment with an attitude of openness, curiosity and care.” In addition,“Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and external environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness,” as noted in their 2015 report.
What practices and techniques fall under the umbrella of mindfulness?
You might think mindfulness is just a synonym for meditation, but it actually encompasses so much more than that.
“The practice of mindfulness is an ancient practice, deep rooted in Buddhism. Since 1979, with the creation of the first MBI – Mindfulness Based Intervention, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, at the Massachusetts University: MBSR – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, it has received a scientific, structured, and secular approach,” Marina explains.
As such, mindfulness can be split into two broad groups of practices:
Formal (or dedicated) practices
Supported by over 20,000 entries on PUBMED and more than 600,000 articles on Google Scholar, this arm of mindfulness has the most supportive research. “These are formal practices, where you reserve time for meditation and are mainly attention focused on the breath, body sensations, sounds, thoughts and emotions,” Marina explains. “Mindfulness practices may also include open awareness practices and loving-kindness and compassion meditations.
As Marina is quick to remind us, “we do not practice mindfulness to become good meditators, we practice mindfulness, so we have a better and happier life, living fully our experiences.” As such, an important part of mindfulness is about mindful living or how we utilise our mindfulness education and experiences throughout our day to day life. “Learning about our triggers and choosing better responses, making intentional pauses, connecting with people around us, appreciating the moment, not judging, and accepting life as it comes,” Marina expands.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is not a panacea that can heal anything,” warns Marina, but broadly speaking, there are a multitude of benefits anyone can gain from practicing mindfulness. These include:
- Increased self awareness
- Increased self-regulation
- Learn more about self care
- Become better at setting boundaries
- Prevention of and recovery from burnout
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Develop focus and concentration
- Foster resilience and creativity
- Improve communication
Additionally, there is emerging research that points towards mindfulness as an effective tool for those experiencing more specific concerns and issues. “We have specific interventions to reduce relapse on depression episodes (MBCT – Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) or to reduce relapse on addictive or compulsive behaviours (MBRP – Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention), with proven resultp s,” Marina explains. “The mindfulness interventions (MBCR and MBCT-Ca) that offer mindfulness for cancer patients, benefit patients with symptoms like sleep, pain, and fear of recurrence of the disease.”
Who is mindfulness good for?
“With so much research on the practice of mindfulness, we can be assured that it can benefit most people, especially those wanting to cultivate a more balanced, happy, and healthy style of life,” Marina explains. It’s a brilliant tool for managing your wellbeing or mental health, which is important in enabling you to make the most of your potential, deal with the stresses of modern life and play a full part in your family, workplace, community or friendship group.
There’s a common misconception that mindfulness encourages introspection, but that’s simply untrue. “It is the opposite: you will be much more alert, alive, and present,” Marina asserts. “The main attitudes of mindfulness are curiosity, a beginner’s mind and kindness, both towards ourselves and towards others.”
However, for those with more specific conditions (such as an acute phase of any disorder, deep depression, bipolar disorder or psychosis, risk of history of dissociation, severe trauma), it’s vital that they first consult a physician or counsellor to ascertain if the practice in question is appropriate and only practice with the guidance of experienced teachers. As Marina explains, “They should be sure that they are in professional hands that can guide them through the experience and to support them in their discoveries and challenges. It is mandatory that the practitioners are trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive mindfulness teachers.
What are the best ways to practice mindfulness for mental wellbeing?
You don’t need to set aside hours and hours to participate in mindfulness. “Start by including purposefully pauses in your day. Just stop and take a few deep breaths or intentionally bring your attention to what you are doing: washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, walking on the street,” recommends Marina.
She also suggests the simple practice of bringing your attention to your feet on the floor for a few moments, and taking time to really examine the sensation. Alternatively, “try paying attention to someone talking to you with the intention of understanding them, not answering them.”
Here at New Life Portugal, we incorporate mindfulness into every aspect of our retreat programs.