What is mindfulness exactly? Mindfulness is an attitude and a skill that anyone can develop. It is the ability to stay present in the moment so as not to miss out on your life. By learning to stay present, we gradually increase our awareness of what is going on in our minds and how habits of mind like worry, fear, anger, self-criticism, blaming can dominate our lives without us even knowing. These unskillful thought patterns can begin to wear us down, stress us out, negatively impact our relationships and our happiness. Through the practice of mindfulness, we gradually become aware of these patterns of thinking that are really just habits, and we can begin to dismantle them. Through mindfulness practices we form and strengthen more positive habits of mind like resilience, patience, creativity, compassion, joy and calm.
So what is meditation? Meditation is the practice that strengthens mindfulness. Through meditation, we increase our self-awareness, and we begin to notice what habits of mind are skillful and which ones are not. We strengthen our attention and gain insight into where we want to place our attention in order to live more intentionally. Just as a well-rounded physical exercise routine trains our bodies to be fit and flexible, meditation trains our minds to be healthy, adaptable and agile. Not only does this benefit ourselves, but this improved sense of well-being can positively affect the communities we belong to - family, school, workplace, civic organizations etc.
How exactly does it work? Meditation and mindfulness practices have been proven scientifically to increase one's ability to manage stress and anxiety. Calming down our nervous system opens up the possibility for better integrated brain functioning, healthier physiological systems, and improved relationships. When practiced in a group setting, mindfulness can help to improve the quality of communication between group members, and it can increase a sense of belonging and inter-relatedness within the group.
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