It is 8:45 in the morning. Barely awake, the student jumps out of his bed. He checks his mobile for messages even as he brushes his teeth. With hardly ten minutes left for the first lecture, he hurriedly gets dressed. He orders whatever is instantly available in the hostel cafeteria, stuffs it in his mouth and rushes to class. It would not be wrong to assume that he has no idea what he is wearing or what he has eaten for breakfast.
A working adult’s morning is not very different. Amidst children wailing, household chores pending, mobile phones ringing and work pressure mounting, an office-goer gets ready for work. He runs around like a headless chicken, trying to multitask. Even before he leaves for work, he is stressed out and anxious. He has no time to appreciate every moment.
A lot of us can relate to such scenarios. But life need not be so chaotic. Being mindful can reduce stress and bring order. Psychologists and medical practitioners alike have stressed upon the need for mindfulness. They have found that being more attentive to all tasks improves physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Mindfulness exercises the brain just as a dumbbell works out muscles. Art of Living teacher Dr Manikantan Menon explains, “When we pay attention to ourselves and our surroundings, we tame our mind to be totally present at the moment. It is the art of being mindful.”
The concept of mindfulness has its roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. Sages have often emphasised on the importance of practising mindfulness in unlocking our life’s potential. Even yogis use mindful meditation to enhance their awareness and attention span. In one of his talks, spiritual leader and mystic Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is known to have said: “The only reason why someone is a mystic and someone is not, is the lack of attention. Spirituality happens only because you paid attention to your life and you saw that you don’t know where it begins and where it ends.”
Although mindfulness began as a spiritual concept, the practice has found its application in professional settings. A recent study Being Mindfully Aware and Engaged at Work, by Maastricht University, proves that mindfulness helps one break free from monotony. The research suggests that mindfulness helps employees get out of the rut and reinvent ways to work more efficiently. The study also found that besides reducing stress and burnout in an employee, mindfulness also results in an increased work-life balance, emotional quotient, performance, and job satisfaction.
It is not just work-life that mindfulness helps with, but also physiology. Medical practitioners have found that being attentive boosts our immunity, by activating the relevant areas of the brain. It also brings down elevated blood pressure and is, therefore, good alternative therapy for coronary heart diseases. Furthermore, psychiatrist Dr Noman Doidge, in his book The Brain’s Way of Healing, explains how mindfulness helps control the symptoms of Parkinson’s. According to him, a doer acts subconsciously while performing habitual tasks. He observes that since Parkinson’s affects the unconscious areas of the brain, patients can bypass and override the disability, by moving every action to the conscious areas of the brain. In one surprising case, a patient was even able to walk normally after applying certain techniques of mindfulness, he writes.
Being mindful is priceless–be it for one’s health, profession, or mere everyday living. The practice can summon our wandering mind back and restore its efficacy. Eventually, mindfulness can make us realise that the miracle of life is in the present. It is neither in the memories of our past nor in the mirages of tomorrow. Here’s Dr Menon’s advice on practising mindfulness throughout the day:
A day well begun
How one wakes up in the morning sets the mood for the rest of the day. For example, one can be mindful of one’s own heartbeat, the vision of greenery from the garden, the sound of birds chirping or the cool morning breeze.
Switch to manual mode
We tend to perform several activities like brushing the teeth, taking a shower, eating breakfast and driving to work, absent-mindedly. We can practise being more aware of these activities, by zooming in on the sight, sound, smell, taste and feel of it all.
What we eat matters
The food we eat can affect our nervous system. For example, spicy foods tend to induce anger, while oily foods can make us restless. In fact, overeating makes our nervous system sluggish and our minds lethargic. It is best to limit our intake of such foods.
All work and no play
Given the technology-driven nature of our lives, we seldom indulge in physical activities. But a sedentary lifestyle can disrupt our attempts to be more mindful. Physical activities demand not only agility but also alertness. It indirectly fosters our practice of being mindful.
Meditation helps us become aware of our breath and thoughts in the present moment. It is perhaps the best way to cultivate mindfulness in everyday life. Meditation is, after all, a formal training ground for mindfulness.