Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Why Practice It?
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits. Here are some of these benefits, which extend across many different settings.
- Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Practicing mindfulness may also improve sleep quality.
- Mindfulness is good for our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Indeed, at least one study suggests it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.
- Mindfulness changes our brains: Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- Mindfulness helps us focus: Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory, attention skills, and decision-making.
- Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism: Research suggests mindfulness training makes us more likely to help someone in need and increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well.
- Mindfulness enhances relationships: Research suggests mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another. Mindful couples may also recover more quickly from conflict.
- Mindfulness affects the way we see ourselves: More mindful people have a stronger sense of self and seem to act more in line with their values. They may also have a healthier body image, more secure self-esteem, and more resilience to negative feedback.
- Mindfulness makes us more resilient: Some evidence suggests that mindfulness training could help veterans facing post-traumatic stress disorder, police officers, women who suffered child abuse, and caregivers.
- Mindfulness can help combat bias: Even a brief mindfulness training can reduce our implicit biases and the biased language we use. One way this works, researchers have found, is by attenuating the cognitive biases that contribute to
- Mindfulness is good for business: Mindfulness training could help make leaders more confident, improve creativity, reduce multitasking, and improve client satisfaction.
- Mindfulness is good for parents and parents-to-be: Studies suggest it may reduce pregnancy-related anxiety, stress, and depression in expectant parents, and may even reduce the risk of premature births and developmental issues. Parents who practice mindful parenting report less stress, more positive parenting practices, and better relationships with their kids; their kids, in turn, are less susceptible to depression and anxiety, and have better social skills. Mindfulness training for families may lead to less-stressed parents who pay more attention to their kids.
- Mindfulness may be beneficial to teens: Practicing mindfulness can help teens reduce stress and depression and increase their self-compassion and happiness. Once teens arrive at college, it could also reduce their binge drinking.
- Mindfulness helps schools: There’s scientific evidence that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems, aggression, and depression among students, and improves their happiness levels, self-regulation, and ability to pay attention. Teachers trained in mindfulness also show lower blood pressure, less negative emotion and symptoms of depression, less distress and urgency, greater compassion and empathy, and more effective teaching.
- Mindfulness helps health care professionals cope with stress, connect with their patients, and improve their general quality of life. It also helps mental health professionals by reducing negative emotions and anxiety, and increasing their positive emotions and feelings of self-compassion.
- Mindfulness helps prisons: Evidence suggests mindfulness reduces anger, hostility, and mood disturbances among prisoners by increasing their awareness of their thoughts and emotions, helping with their rehabilitation and reintegration.
- Mindfulness helps veterans: Studies suggest it can reduce the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of war.
- Mindfulness fights obesity: Practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, helps people lose weight, and helps them savor the food they do eat. Pregnant women who practice mindful eating gain less weight during pregnancy, and have healthier babies.