What is Mindfulness you ask? It is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us”. Usually when I suggest to my clients to practice Mindfulness I get a perturbed look and complete lack of excitement. But, when I say its for those that are looking to reduce stress, bring more happiness into their life, deal with medical conditions, or trauma, all you need to do is use your mind in a positive way.
Much of depression and anxiety stem from not resolving core conflicts of our past, and anticipating worst case scenarios of the future that may never actually happen. By engaging in these mindsets, we are ignoring the present moment of what could be providing us a wealth of enjoyment and happiness. How great it would be to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms by training our mind to exist only in the present moment, and letting go of all negative distractions?
Some examples of Mindfulness include:
- Bringing awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses or state of mind through thoughts and emotions
- Set aside time each day to practice through meditation or yoga
- Observe the present moment as it is
- Let your judgements roll by and focus on love and compassion
- Be kind to your wandering mind and return to present moment
- Focus on your breath as an anchor to the present moment
One of the most common ways to practice Mindfulness is through Meditation. This can be done by establishing a space in your home that is quiet, and free from distractions with comfortable seating. No cellphones or computers is a must! (I enjoy a candle or essential oil diffuser, with relaxing instrumental music in the background). For those just beginning, guided mediations are available through some apps (Calm, Headspace) to help you develop direction for meditation. Begin each meditation with an intention; bring in positive loving light, love for yourself, show yourself more compassion, alleviate pain, etc. What is it that you wish to base or focus your directed attention on? Then, the most important part of mediation, focus on your breath. Remain aware of it, each inhale and exhale, and focus on the depth of each as you breathe in and out.
Don’t judge yourself by asking “Am I doing this right”? Let go of all judgements and just allow your mind to relax. This is a gradual process and it does take time. On this journey and in this process you will find more self-awareness, patience, and the art of concentration, which will all benefit you in work and life.
There are many benefits to practicing Mindfulness, and for those of you skeptical that “living in the moment” could calm the mind and relieve stress, it has been scientifically proven. Some leading researchers in the area are Jon Kabat-Zinn, Rezvan Ameli, Matthieu Ricard and B. Alan Wallace, to name a few. Over time our brains change through a process called neuroplasticity. Some changes are the results of how we use our brains – playing an instrument, reading, or Meditation!
There are parts of the brain that have shown to increase in size due to meditation, and these areas are associated with sensory experience, working memory, and executive decision making. Although it is well documented that as we age, our cortex (composed of gray matter) shrinks making it hard to remember things. In a study done by Emory University to research meditation effects on the brain, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds. Proof that even though we may age, practicing meditation could prevent forgetfulness and the inability to figure things out. Furthermore, another study showed the amygdala (the brain’s panic button that ignites the fight or flight response), grew smaller in subjects who had been trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and thus displaying a reduction in stress. (The panic button response is the basis of anxiety and also the precursor to inflammation that leads to chronic pain.)
Aside from brain changes, other benefits to practicing Mindfulness:
- Understand your pain
- Connect better
- Lowers stress
- Focus your mind
- Reduce brain chatter
- Trains your body to thrive (sports uses it)
- Boosts creativity
- Strengthens neural connections
You do not have to go through extensive training, sit through a class, or practice a particular religion to practice Mindfulness. By quieting your mind and living in the moment, releasing all stress and distraction, you can experience a more positive and productive outlook on life. You can reduce anxiety and depression, reduce the activity of genes that cause inflammation in the body that leads to chronic pain, and live calmer and more focused.
Sources: Mindfulness - An Everyday Guide, published by Athlon Sports Communications #30 Spirituality Now - Newsweek Special Edition, July 8, 2017