In mindfulness practice, you’ll often hear the term “natural awareness.” By “natural awareness” we mean the awareness that just comes with being a human being. It’s free from judging and characterizing—it’s just noticing and sensing the world. It’s done when you open your eyes, you see something, or you hear something, or you touch something. So, the simplest awareness that just comes as part of the equipment of being alive, without a lot of filters around it or judgments. You can trust that it’s always there.
By “natural awareness” we mean the awareness that just comes with being a human being. It’s free from judging and characterizing—it’s just noticing and sensing the world.
An Awareness Practice You Can Do Anywhere
One Minute Guided Meditation with Barry Boyce
This is a short practice intended for doing in the middle of the day, wherever you are out in the world, for settling. It’s done with eyes open. So let’s begin.
Settle into your seat. Begin by taking a seat, or if necessary, standing. The important thing is to feel where your body is touching the seat and touching the ground.
Scan the body. Sense where your bottom is touching the seat. Sit up straight or stand straight but not stiff. Make sure your feet are completely touching the ground, connecting you to the earth. Your eyes are open, so take in the surroundings of where you are. Lower your gaze slightly.
Connect with the breath. Pay light attention to your breath as it goes out.
Follow the out-breath. At the end of the out-breath, let there be a gap while the in-breath is happening. And in that gap you have natural awareness: it’s there already, you don’t have to create it. So, follow the breath out, and out, and out. As thoughts arise, treat them as you would anything else you encounter: Notice it, and use that noticing to bring you back to the out-breath and ride it out. Out, and out, and out.
Mindfulness is a word you hear a lot these days, but few can explain what it actually means.
In its most simplest form, it means paying attention to the present moment without judging external thoughts that enter into your mind.
The term has surged in use in recent years, having been co-opted by various brands in a bid to appeal to wellbeing-conscious millennials, though the definition can vary depending on what is being marketed.
Read on for everything you need to know about mindfulness, from how it works to how it might benefit you.
What is it?
Mindfulness is about taking a pause from the business of your daily life to think of nothing else but the present moment.
According to Sharon Hadley, CEO of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, it’s primarily about encouraging people to pay more attention to what is happening in their own bodies and minds.
“It is a term used for a range of interventions or practices taught to help us cultivate this ability,” she tells The Independent.
How does it work?
When a person is engaging in the practice of mindfulness, the idea is that they focus on nothing but their bodies and their breathing, mental health charity Mind explains on its website.
By doing this, they should be able to pick up on any thoughts that enter their minds and let them go, Mind adds.
You can find some useful tips on how to actually do this without allowing yourself to be distracted on Mindful.org.
It should feel liberating and help someone understand themselves and their emotions better, the NHS explains.
How is it beneficial?
Hadley says that mindfulness can have a positive impact on our overall wellbeing by making us more aware of our own thoughts and feelings in addition to the environment around us.
“This ability to pay attention, to notice what is happening in the present moment and increase our ability to make a choice how or indeed if to respond to our thoughts or feelings has proven beneficial to those suffering, both mentally and physically,” she adds.
Research has also found mindfulness to be beneficial in treating a number of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and stress.
“Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is one mindfulness intervention and has been used in a clinical context for a number of years,” Hadley adds.
“MBCT is recognised and approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the UK as a clinical intervention to support those who suffer from recurrent depression.”
NICE, which provides national guidance to improve health and social care, also recommends using mindfulness-based techniques to help curb social anxiety, which is the term used to describe an overwhelming fear of social situations.
One recent study claimed that mindfulness can be “just as effective” as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in easing chronic pain and symptoms of depression.
Mind adds that research is currently underway into whether mindfulness could be used to treat more complex conditions, such as bipolar disorder and psychosis. Though it’s not yet clear how mindfulness will be used in these contexts as the research is in the early stages.
How can you be more mindful?
While anyone can try mindfulness, being mindful isn’t always easy to do, says Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind.
“It can take practice, and might not be right for everyone. It’s not usually a good idea to start learning mindfulness when you’re very unwell because it can be hard to get the most out of it, and you may find it distressing at first,” he tells The Independent.
“If you’re currently having a particularly difficult time with your mental health, you might want to seek treatment and support for that, then try mindfulness when you’re feeling better.”
That being said, there are some simple ways one can incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives.
For example, the NHS suggests trying new things on a regular basis, whether it’s going somewhere new for lunch or sitting somewhere different in a meeting. This could help you “notice the word in a new way”, its website states.
Alternatively, silently naming thoughts and feelings can be a helpful way of addressing stressful situations, the NHS adds. They suggests, for example, if you’re feeling anxious about an exam, this would be a case of saying to yourself: “This is anxiety”.
If you really want to learn the ins and outs of mindfulness, Hadley suggests signing up to a basic introductory course. The majority of these run for eight weeks and offer two and half hours of tuition each week, she says. You can find a list of trained mindfulness teachers as listed on the UK Mindfulness Network here.
The yoga industry has seen its fair share of fads—goat yoga, boozy yoga, and naked yoga, just to name a few—but there’s one thing that remains a constant: People always roll out their mats. That’s because it’s an excellent way to get sweaty and centered, whether you’re a total newbie or longtime pro. Plus, there are some seriously awesome health benefits of yoga that you can score from a daily practice. Here are just a few of the most impressive ones that are worth a pat on the back (because, yep, now you can reach that far):
1. You have better flexibility and mobility.
This one may be obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because, hey, you may not have been able to touch your toes or connect your hands behind your back before practicing yoga. But being able to do that isn’t the only benefit to getting bendy.
Because yoga has a ton of postures that are performed to improve flexibility and build muscular strength, it also retrains our deep connective tissue, says Emilie Perz, a yoga movement therapist and teacher in Los Angeles. “Stress and anxiety can leave our tissues tired, tight, and stuck,” she explains. “[But] yoga focuses on whole body movement and awareness, so we can often use the poses to release and lengthen these chronically tight regions.”
Not only does this mean more flexibility on the outside, but you can also retrain how your body’s tissues hold together, Perz adds. The way to do that is with a consistent practice. “From more mobility to better posture, the poses themselves are a potent tonic that wakes our bodies up and moves them more freely through space,” she says.
2. You might lose weight.
If you’ve always thought that high-intensity yoga classes were the only way to lose weight, it’s time to retrain your brain. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with those styles—and research showsAshtanga, Bikram, and Iyengar varieties can be particularly effective thanks to their aerobic tendencies—a study from the American Journal of Managed Care found that a restorative practice can also be effective in lowering that number on the scale.
In the study, researchers divided a group of overweight women into two groups—those who took regular restorative yoga classes, and those who participated in stretching sessions, both of which lasted for 48 weeks. Those in the yoga group didn’t bust out any hard-core postures or speedy flows; researchers said the classes focused instead on relaxation and stress reduction. Poses were held for long periods of time, measured breathing was emphasized, and meditative music was played.
With all that in mind, you’d think weight loss wouldn’t really be the end goal. But this group lost significantly more subcutaneous fat (the kind that sits directly under the skin) than the stretching group did in the first six months and kept it off longer. So, this just goes to show that it’s not always about going hard-core all the time.
3. You could get better at other workouts, too.
Listen, no human being is interested in one thing and one thing only. So it’s OK to love yoga but also love bootcamp. Or running. Or touch football. Whatever your passion is, Perz says, it’s likely that a regular yoga practice can help you perform better. “Repeating postures gives [deep connective tissue] more buoyancy and adaptability, which allows our muscles to fire more effectively,” she explains. “This means practicing yoga daily may also help improve our performance in other exercise modalities.”
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to start doubling up your workouts all the time. On days you have another routine on the schedule, a quick 10-minute flow in the morning could be just what you need to get your body (and mind) in prime condition, Perz says.
4. You could reduce chronic pain.
Chronic, always-present pain isn’t something to mess around with. It can be seriously debilitating to your quality of life, and research shows it may even lead to depression. But multiple studies have found yoga to be an extremely effective treatment, especially for those suffering from chronic lower back pain, one of the most common forms, reports the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
One such study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that those who had chronic lower-back pain self-reported better function and less pain after three months of weekly classes. They were also significantly more likely to quit pain relievers after a year. And with today’s opioid epidemic, that’s a great reason to give it a try.
5. You could boost your mental health.
All exercise is linked to lowering symptoms of depression, and yoga is no exception: A review of studies published in Frontiers in Psychiatrysuggested that those with depression, schizophrenia, sleep problems, and other mental health conditions could all benefit from practicing yoga. Plus, Perz says that many people live for the mental benefits they experience. “When asked why we practice, both teachers and students alike tend to mention things like yoga being grounding, yoga [being] a tool to help them be ‘in their body,’ and yoga [being] the magic mood lifter,” she says.
Yoga can also have an immediate mood-boosting effect. “There are so many postures in yoga that help with depression and mood,” Robin Berzin, M.D., functional medicine physician and founder of Parsley Health, told mbg. Some of her favorites for this purpose: camel pose, pigeon pose, and legs up the wall, which help you quite literally open your heart and find new perspective.
“Even when the fog of depression seems impossibly thick,” says Berzin, “connecting with the body is an awesome way to find presence, and presence is like a headlight that lets you see a way forward and out.”
If you’re struggling to pull together that work presentation or hit a roadblock on your great American novel, it may be time to roll out your mat. “Research suggests that by practicing the mindfulness components of yoga regularly—including meditation, mantra, and deep breathing techniques—you can stimulate and increase your alpha brain waves, or the happy calm brain waves,” Perz says. “Through repetition of these mind-body techniques, you can alter the brain’s architecture that taps into your place of connection and creativity.”
7. You may have a more positive outlook.
You know it’s true: The way you think and act on the regular greatly affects your mood and how you feel about yourself. So it’s important to put yourself in a safe space where you don’t feel judged and can be in tune with your thoughts. Yoga is the place for that. “By setting intentions at the beginning of class and focusing on the present moment, you become more aware of negative thought patterns as they arise,” Perz says. “By understanding them and replacing them with a new activity, such as controlled breathing and mindful movement, you can reduce the psychological stress that onsets negative thoughts…and drastically improve your overall attitude and outlook.”
8. You could lower your risk of heart disease.
Heart health is more important than ever, with recent research from the American Heart Association showing that heart attacks, high blood pressure, and diabetes are increasingly more common in younger people—especially women. But it turns out yoga may help lower your risk. A review of studies published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiologyfound that practicing yoga could help just as much as conventional exercise, like brisk walking. In fact, the studies analyzed various types of yoga—both athletic and more gentle flows—as well as a wide range of people with various health conditions. Overall, they saw that those who practiced lowered their blood pressure by five points and decreased their levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol by 12 points. What this suggests: It’s likely less about thetype of yoga you’re into and more about being consistent with your movement.
9. You could ease asthma symptoms.
You don’t want to ditch your conventional care for treating asthma, but research shows that yoga could be a great complementary treatment to help ease symptoms. A small study, published in BMC Pulmonary Medicine, looked at 57 adults with mild to moderate asthma and found that those who added a yoga routine to their schedule for eight weeks dramatically lessened their symptoms and needed to use medication less often. This may be thanks to the breathing practices that are associated with yoga—often called pranayama.