OK so what is mindfulness?
Whenever I mention my interest in mindfulness to others I often get reactions along these two lines:
- Take the slightest step back, wary of this ‘new age’ missionary who could any moment whip out some bendy moves and encourage a group chant
- Nod profusely, say they read something about it in a magazine then go on to discuss how a friend of a friend does it, says its A-Mazing. Something about ‘mind control’ and living a worry-free super-life.
And these are not entirely untrue… I mean you CAN choose to get your bendy moves on if you like with some yoga for mindful movement and perform some chants like my little compassion mantras in my head. Mindfulness has also been scientifically proven have a positive effect on peoples mental-wellbeing and experience of life. However luckily there’s also a bit more to it beyond these common stigmas, a side that’s more down-to-earth and can be introduced into the lives of each and every one of us to help manage our modern worlds.
I think Dr Patricia Collard puts the definition of Mindfulness really nicely …
“Mindfulness is being aware of bringing attention to this moment in time, deliberately and without judging the experience.”
So we are looking more at ‘waking up’ to what is around us here and now in terms of sensations, thoughts and emotions. This is in contrast to our go-to of running around on Autopilot mode lost in thought, creating to-do lists and letting things crash bang right into us which in turn generates more stress in our busy lives.
When practicing mindfulness many people say that they feel like they are more able to ‘live life to the full’, with a sense of enchantment and enjoyment. The important part is that this does not require an external change to your environment from things that are often out of our hands, it relies more on a shift in our perception of life which in turn can open up new possibilities.
With practice, mindfulness can serve as the perfect antidote to healing stress that can sometimes undermine our health, performance and quality of life, and can provide a sensation of relaxation. Indeed the evidence has shown that it can be an effective aid in the treatment of many mental and physical health issues, as well as generally improving our performance, relationships, and well-being.
Dr Patricia Collard is keen to mention that when learning about mindfulness it is important to realise that this skill may not necessarily “heal” you in a physical, tangible way. What it will do is change your perspective on your discomfort, and open up new possibilities for moving on from simply existing and struggling, to adventurous living. Mindfulness gives us a tool to cope with difficulty, approaching it with a kind and curious attention rather than avoiding it. By allowing ourselves to feel difficult emotions, we find that they lessen in strength the next time they raise, Positive emotions are then free to “come up” and people report experiencing more joy.
I am particularly drawn to facts and scientific proof of new methods. I guess this comes from having a naturally highly analytical mind and a love for finding out ‘how things work’. The fact that Mindfulness is so supported by the scientific community really interests me and there have been over 10,000 research papers written on the subject! I shall include some references on the ‘my favourite references’ if this tickles your fancy.
The brain was once thought to unchangeable however now with help from Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) we can see the neuroplasticity of the brain. Over the last 30 years, academic research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and physical medicine have documented the wide-ranging benefits of learning to meditate, particularly from the 8-week mindfulness course format.
Lazer et al. reported that from just 27 minutess of mindfulness practice per day for 8 weeks the grey matter density in the brains control centre, the amygdala was reduced. With mindfulness we can deliberately choose to strengthen positive pathways which rewires and changing our brains for the better, much like changing a habit. We then become better at making positive decisions, benefiting out wellbeing and those around us.
“We revert back to “human beings” from “human doings”” – Dr Patricia Collard