Decoding mindfulness: The ancient secret to a healthy life

World health day special guide to living a healthy life
Decoding mindfulness: The ancient secret to a healthy life
Representational image of practicing meditation and mindfulnessImage: The Bridge Chronicle

The digital era has us on the go all the time. In the 21st century, we are continuously chasing — dreams, jobs, people, busses and what not. No matter how far away we wish to stay from the rat race, at least the first 30 years of our lives spent chasing after various goals. And our connectivity with people plays an indispensable role in it.

Think about it. The life that we know, before the invention of the mobile phone, was so different. There was no cellphone ringing in our pockets all the time. People did not walk around with a mobile phone stuck in front of their faces. We were much more independent, and if we were out of our homes or office, nobody could find us without our permission. No emails saying, "Hope this email finds you well". We did not even have companies selling an uncalled for trip across the sea when you can barely relax at home on weekends.

Though I understand that cellphones have become a necessity, the question remains, are they really a necessity? Do we really need to be accessible all the time?

The over intrusive nature of the digital world has people running away from technology as far as possible. Mountain treks, detox centres have all come to the limelight because we are increasingly dependant on technology. Just ten years back, we did not need a heart rate monitor on our wrist. No one ever wondered how many steps they had walked in a day. And yet, people who truly wished to stay fit managed to do so without these luxuries. So what is it that we are losing in this increasingly technology-driven world?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the American professor of medicine, says, "Wherever you go, there you are". He is the founder of Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Understanding mindfulness?

The word mindfulness means being in the moment. No matter what you are doing, mindfulness suggests that we should be absolutely attentive to every detail of the event.

Supposing you are reading a book. But while reading, you often check your phone or think about what happened during the day. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you might wonder what your cat is doing. You may also think about calling your parents.

But mindfulness suggests being present in that very moment. Focusing your attention on every word you read and how it adds to the storyline? Immersing yourself completely in the experience by paying attention to the sound of the pages turning and how slowly the story unveils.

Through mindfulness, you can free your mind of all unnecessary thought. Additionally, helping you focus your attention on what you are doing.

We spoke to Dr Aparna Govil to understand mindfulness in a more detailed manner.

Q

What is mindfulness?

A

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. This sense of being completely present happens through a gentle, nurturing lens. Often it is used as a therapeutic technique.

This practice means that mindfulness helps us understand and appreciate the moment we are presently living. It makes us aware of our surroundings and exuberate the experience of the moment.

Q

What areas of life can we apply mindfulness too?

A

Mindfulness can be helpful in the following areas of our lives:

To decrease stress: Be it parents, healthcare professionals, police personnel. It also helps people suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and those who suffer from restless leg syndrome.

To deal with illness: It is helpful in patients suffering from chronic diseases such as cancer. It helps to focus less on pain and more on improving the quality of life. It also helps to decrease the gnawing worries that trouble these patients.

To help in recovery: It helps to decrease stress and anxiety post recovery from a severe illness. Mindfulness not only helps to deal with illness better, but it also facilitates speedy recovery.

To help battle depression: Mindfulness helps in increasing self-compassion. It also considered being an effective supplemental treatment for depression.

Representational image of practicing meditation and mindfulness
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Q

How does mindfulness help us in our daily lives?

A

Living mindfully can be very enriching and can be practised in every living moment. No matter what we are doing, we can be more mindful. We can develop more kindness and compassion with everything that surrounds us. It is also about self-compassion and a culture of care for everything around us. When we start practising this regularly, we can appreciate the difference in our thought process and how it helps us calm down and live a more satisfying life.

This practice helps us in being more focused on what we do in our day-to-day life. How we talk, how well we finish our tasks and how productive we are throughout the day.

Q

What effect does mindfulness have on our productivity?

A

When we are mindful, we are also more compassionate towards ourselves. We learn to take care of ourselves better. It also helps us to have better relationships with our surroundings. Mindfulness also leads to increased focus, active listening and increased engagement. Which further leads to increased productivity and better-quality output. That is an enriching experience, and it sets off a positive cycle. Mindfulness also aids in preventing burn out.

Q

How can we work towards inculcating mindfulness in our daily lives?

A

One of the most important things that we need to practice is mindful eating. In today’s day and age, mindless eating is the norm. Most of us are working from home and multi-tasking big time.

Many times, we are not even aware of the type and taste of the food that we are eating. We must practice paying attention to the food that we are eating, savour the taste and be thankful for the food on our plate. This helps in choosing healthy food and has also shown to help in weight loss and maintenance.

Being mindful of our interactions with others is also crucial. Our relationships with people around us set the tone of our day. In today’s world, these include both offline interactions as well as online interactions. Think before you speak or write, avoid saying anything negative. Try to listen and don’t be in a rush to give a rebuttal. Nowadays, online interactions constitute a major part of all our interactions and sometimes not being face to face makes it easy to make way for rudeness. Make a conscious effort to stay away from negative comments.

Perform every activity mindfully. Most of the times we do not remember 70 per cent of our daily activities, even the next day. This happens because on most days we have a lot on our mind, and we run through tasks without paying much attention to them. We need to learn to focus on the present and live each moment to its fullest. When we start doing this, it helps to alleviate anxiety as well.

Take breaks during the day. Especially nowadays when people are working from home, the boundaries between personal and professional space have faded. It is important to take breaks and think about what we are doing and where we are headed. It also helps to do some breathing exercises and meditation during the day.

Q

Do you think mindfulness is a way of detoxing?

A

Our minds are very cluttered. We thrive on multi-tasking. It helps to be mindful as that helps to declutter and detoxify. It helps to remove the negative and focus on the positive.

Q

Is mindfulness taking us back to our roots?

A

If our roots are defined by our core and inner peace, then definitely, mindfulness takes us closer to ourselves. It teaches us self-compassion which in turn leads to increased compassion for our surroundings and other people as well. It leads to more stability and peace and makes us much more rooted.

Q

In the time of digital era, how does mindfulness fit into our lives?

A

Mindfulness is of utmost importance in this digital era. Most of us reach out to our smartphones as the first thing in the morning. People are finding it difficult to live or spend time without their phones. The digital space has always been very cluttered and since the pandemic has started, we have an infodemic. Many times, our online interactions set the tone of our day. While the digital revolution has many pluses, it has also led to an increase in anxiety and stress. Hence it is very important to find a gadget-free time every day. The more mindful we become, the less dependent we will be on our gadgets. As we find value in ourselves and our relationships, our need for our gadgets will decrease. We must learn to use them for what they are worth and not allow them to rule our lives.

As we pace through this digital era, we are truly missing out on the quality of life.

A study published in The Harvard Gazette suggests, that mindfulness benefits against an array of conditions both physical and mental.

Its benefits also include curing irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Despite some critics of the study, mindfulness is considered to be an effective practice in daily life. . Some key areas including depression, chronic pain, and anxiety, have shown positive effects when mindfulness was practised.

But how to practice mindfulness?

According to Mayoclinic to practice mindfulness, one must learn to live completely in the moment. This awareness can be achieved by imagining a wine tour.

While on a wine tour, when we are taken to the cellar for tasting, there is a certain way to go about it. You must first look at the wine, see the colour, then take a deep breath and examine the aroma of the wine. Further, you swirl the wine and enjoy the fragrance again. After this, you take a sip and relish the taste of the wine. Mindful experiencing is similar to this.

Apply this process in everything you do and follow the below pointers.

Pay attention: We all live in a busy world, but when we chose to live mindfully, we chose to pay attention to our surrounding. This makes us more and more aware of our surrounding.

Live in the moment: Being aware of your environment will help you appreciate what you have, which can further make you happy.

Accept yourself: Focus on your wellbeing and do things that will make you more healthy

Today on World Health Day, as we live through these difficult times, let us pledge to be more healthy and live more consciously.

Representational image of practicing meditation and mindfulness
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