Well-Being//

How Mindfulness, Minus The Hype, Benefits Your Brain And Mood

How to improve your emotional and physical well-being

Radachynskyi Serhii/Shutterstock
Radachynskyi Serhii/Shutterstock

Mindfulness is rapidly becoming a global phenomenon.

It’s even supported by rigorous scientific research, driven in part by a desire for new practices to improve our mental health.

Mental disorders will be the biggest burden of disease in developed countries by 2030, according to The World Health Organisation.

The need for prevention strategies is now more important than ever.

When you strip away the mysticism, mindfulness has a positive influence on the brain.

study from Dr. Sara W. Lazar, et al., showed that meditation actually increases brain density in the prefrontal cortex.

“In essence, mindfulness — being about attention, awareness, relationality, and caring — is a universal human capacity akin to our capacity for language acquisition,” writes Brigid Delaneyof The Guardian.

Modern mindfulness is probably the easiest thing in the world, and the hardest thing for your brain, even if you do it for just five minutes a day.

The simple idea of being mindful — being present, being more conscious of life as it happens, and being aware of your environment can help you enjoy life to the fullest.

Even things you might think are boring, like tidying up, can be amazing if you are truly present.

It takes practice, but it’s incredible.

Mark Williams, co-author of Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic Worldencourages us to live in the moment every day.

He writes, “Start living right here, in each present moment. When we stop dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, we’re open to rich sources of information we’ve been missing out on — information that can keep us out of the downward spiral and poised for a richer life.”

Mindfulness aims to achieve a relaxed, non-judgmental awareness of your present thoughts, feelings and emotions.

The simple act of making your actions deliberate, not rushed and random can improve your mood and help you focus better.

Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, part of Oxford University’s department of psychiatry, calls it “direct knowledge of what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment”.

The life-changing habit is about learning to direct our attention to our experiences as they unfold, instead of choosing to “live in our heads”.

It’s about noticing our thoughts, especially when they are taking over, and realising that they are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control our emotions.

In his TED Talk All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes, mindfulness expert and Founder of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, explains, “… Not being lost in thought, not being distracted, not being overwhelmed by difficult emotions but instead learning how to be in the here and now; how to be mindful, how to be present. I think the present moment is so underrated. It sounds so ordinary and yet we spend so little time in the present moment that it’s anything but ordinary.”

Mindfulness has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being that extend beyond the time the individual is formally meditating.

Parts of your brain associated with compassion and self-awareness grows while parts associated with stress shrink when you meditate, according to research from Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study looked at brain scans of people before and after they participated in a course on mindfulness meditation.

Studies report that meditation can “permanently rewire” your brain to raise levels of happiness.

“In the past decade, research has shown that the benefits of mindfulness include: stress reduction, improved concentration, boosts to working memory, reduced rumination, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility, a higher level of relationship satisfaction, etc.” writes Christopher Bergland of Psychology Today.

Make time (even if it’s just two minutes a day) to meditate.

Find a quiet place and focus on your breathing — and nothing else — for at least two minutes each day.

In our distracted world, this can be hard but it’s not impossible.

If you do it successfully, and consistently make it a habit, you’ll sleep better, feel less stressed, and have more energy.

Every activity in life can be a trigger to bring you back to the present moment

In our distracted world, it is essential for your wellbeing to take a few minutes each day to cultivate mental spaciousness and achieve a positive mind-body balance.

This can be hard but it’s not impossible.

In fact, simple focused breathing can do wonders for you in any situation.

And breathing isn’t the only exercise you can do to reset your mind. Try observing, listening, and appreciating more intentionally, too.

You can be more present in your morning routine, how you work, take breaks and or even how you engage with your spouse, children or relatives.

Being mindful every day can completely change how you relate with yourself, others, and your work.

If you do it successfully, and consistently make it a habit, you’ll sleep better, feel less stressed, and have more energy.

So how do you embrace mindfulness, in the simplest way possible?

It starts with an awareness habit.

Begin to notice the world around you. Awaken your senses to the world around you.

Our brains are on auto-pilot most of the time. Take charge of your thinking habits by switching off the auto-pilot.

Slow down your thinking.

Become aware of your thoughts.

Become comfortable with the silence and stillness.

Most experts recommend a formal practice of mindfulness for about 15 minutes every day.

But that will be hard for a wandering mind. Training your mind to filter the noise in your head to observe is tough.

Naturally, it’s not easy to clear your mind of all thought.

Anyone who has tried to meditate knows how hard it is when the mind keeps wandering into thoughts, from trivial to life-changing.

Attention is a precious commodity, yet we give it away most freely.

And struggle to find it when we need it most.

What you could do is start slow.

Develop one habit at a time. There are dozens of daily mindful habits you can adopt. You can embrace journaling, or practice gratitude daily.

Start noticing the environment (just take notice of what’s going on).

Take time(a minute or two) to breathe deeply; Feel the rush of fresh, oxygenated blood fill you with renewed life. Don’t rush it.

You can use the 4–7–8 breathing technique;

  • Breathe in for four seconds.
  • Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  • Exhale for eight seconds.
  • Repeat.

It’s simple enough to keep your mind occupied with counting and simple enough to practice mindfulness.

Reduce the noise by turning off your gadgets for a couple of hours. You will get used to it after a while.

I have turned off all notifications on my life, and I have never gone back.

Listen more instead of talking. Offer your undivided attention in a conversation.

Read more. Reading can trigger some of the same effects as meditation: a slowing of thoughts and calming of the mind.

Pat attention to your gut. Start listening and trusting your intuition.

Again, you don’t have to start these habits at the same time. You can start with just one and measure the results every week.

Over time and with practice, you will learn new pathways to better habits for a peaceful mind.

Mindfulness is a chance to snap out of unhealthy mental habits and behaviours that can be counterproductive.

The next time you find yourself dwelling on something that is stressing or depressing you, stop and breathe.

Think about your thinking. And then guide your attention to the present.

Originally published on Medium.

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