7 Ways Mindfulness Can Enrich Relationships

Consider this scene. Rati and Aditya are working intently on their laptops. Their teenage daughter, Smriti, is scrolling through social media messages on her phone while their eight-year-old son, Mahir, is avidly watching an animated show on television. All of them are in the same room, yet engrossed in solitary pursuits. Easy to visualise, isn’t it? It’s a familiar scene in urban, middle-class homes today.

One of the things missing in this scene is connection between family members. Connection is as vital for healthy relationships as sunlight is for plants. Connection happens only if you nourish a relationship by showering time and attention, and demonstrating care.

Mindfulness is known to have proven benefits for the mental and emotional well-being of a person. But what can it do in the relationship area? Can it build better connections and enhance relationships? How else can it improve relationships – with your significant other, with your children, with other family members and friends, in the workplace?

The three key elements of mindfulness are:

  • Deliberate awareness of your thoughts, feelings and the sensations you are experiencing in the here and now
  • Being non-judgemental of yourself and others
  • Not reacting immediately to what others say or do, but responding after conscious deliberation

Enriching relationships

When you examine the key elements described above, you realise that practising mindfulness on a regular basis can improve your relationships by:

1.Making you more attentiveAs the illustration at the beginning of this article shows us, often there is an ‘attention deficit’ and lack of connection among close family members.  Mindfulness alters areas of the brain associated with attention and focus. This helps us be more attentive to others and strengthens bonds.

Love Joshi, certified Mindfulness Meditation Trainer and energy healing therapist has a wellness centre called ‘Samaagraha’ (the collective consciousness) in Ahmedabad. According to him the most important way mindfulness improves relationships is by making you stay in the present moment.

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“As you practise mindfulness regularly you stop brooding about your past. Nor do you dwell and get anxious about the future. You are in the here and now. This makes you more attentive to the people around you. Giving loved one’s attention is vital for the health of relationships,” says Joshi.

2.Helping you develop acceptance: “Acceptance is one of the most important principles of mindfulness. First, you have to accept who you are and feel comfortable in your own shoes. When this acceptance comes, your physical self and inner being are in unison. Once this happens it is much easier to accept the other person for who they are. This eases relationships and makes them more authentic,” says Bengaluru resident Nitesh Batra. He is the founder of ‘The Mindful Initiative and Ashtanga Yoga Sadhna’ and a Certified Compassion Cultivation Trainer (CCT).

“From this acceptance comes two other behaviours that build relationships. As you accept the other individual, whether your spouse or child, as a unique being who needs space to blossom, you start giving him or her space. You are also non-judgemental which curbs criticism and conflict areas in relationships,” explains Batra.

Dr Swati Desai, based in Hyderabad, is a management professional as well as a clinical social worker. Presently, she conducts workshops on mindfulness and compassion. She relates how her first mindfulness retreat made her more accepting of others.

“What occurred to me is that we are all full of self-importance and think of ourselves as special. This makes us have expectations from others. After that retreat, the realization hit me that we are all part of this universe. Universality is the main belief that comes to you because of mindfulness and universality leads to compassion, tolerance and acceptance of others. I stopped judging and labelling people. As a result, I began relating to them in a better way,” explains Dr Swati.

3.Promoting emotional regulation: Mindfulness helps you moderate and regulate your emotions. As Buddhist monk, writer and teacher of mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh, has said: “When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens…”

Joshi explains that we all have our triggers with close family members – our spouse, children, or parents. “Mindfulness gives you an awareness of what is happening. And, you can consciously choose how to respond instead of acting under the influence of disturbed emotions. Do you walk out of the room in anger after an argument with a spouse or do you sit down and discuss it calmly? That is a choice,” he says.

Emotional regulation is vital in a workplace too, says Batra. “Workplaces are very competitive spaces. Mindfulness helps you control your verbal and physical actions which makes the workplace environment less toxic and a more productive and high-energy space. Through the practice of mindfulness, competition gives way to collaboration,” he explains.

4.Lowering stress levels: When you are stressed, you cannot enjoy a calm and harmonious relationship with others. You may snap at your child unnecessarily, for example.  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and other techniques can help reduce stress levels.

“Becoming aware of ‘breath’ as one possible anchor of mindfulness meditation practice and using breath to slow down and be in the present has had a powerful impact. As someone who can tend to overthink and become anxious based on the past and for the future, I use this mantra: ‘Breathing in, I am calm. Breathing out, I smile’ as I walk, drive or sit still. This reduces my anxiety and stress,” says Sindhuri Ananth, a resident of Bengaluru.

5.Making your more empathetic: Empathy, the ability to understand the thoughts and emotions of other people, is key to healthy, happy relationships. Mindfulness changes parts of the brain associated with empathy and compassion.

Sindhuri, who works on a project that focuses on experiential learning for children, says: “Mindfulness has been particularly valuable in the work I do in the field of education. Setting an intention to work with empathy, love, acceptance and practising gratitude with mindfulness has helped build better connections with children and other teachers/facilitators.”

6.Enhancing feelings of gratitude: Practising mindfulness makes you feel grateful for all that you have, including the people and relationships in your life. When you show this appreciation towards our loved ones, it is bound to enrich relationships.

Buddhist teacher and author Jack Kornfield explains the connection between mindfulness and gratitude. He calls mindfulness ‘loving awareness’, an awareness of what’s present (including the presence of our loved ones) and looking at what’s present with love and kindness. Out of these feelings, it is but natural that gratitude emerges, he says.

7.Improving relationship with self: What about the most important relationship of all – your relationship with yourself? Mindfulness also helps you have a healthier relationship with your self – your body and mind, says Joshi. “You realise that your body is your home and you have to take care of it. You avoid doing anything that will hurt your body. Similarly, you become conscious of what you are feeding your soul. For instance, you become conscious of what you are watching on television, whether you are indulging in gossip, the kinds of books you are reading, and the music you listen to. Whatever we consume with our body or mind shapes our development as human beings,” he explains.

Says Sindhuri: “From a ‘self’ perspective, gaining an understanding of mindfulness and the intent to be mindful has helped me observe my behaviour in different situations. This helps me make choices where I am more compassionate, kind and non-judgemental of myself and others around me.”

 

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About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

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