What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention on purpose and in the present moment said Doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn. He also developed the now legendary MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program that has expanded mindfulness meditation into the mainstream.
Mindfulness originated in East from the Pali word “Sati” which is said to directly translate as to remember or recollect and is considered a spiritual and psychological faculty. With the rise of Mindfulness is the West, the practice now has a growing body of scientific research to support the many benefits for mind, body and social awareness.
The formal practice of mindfulness meditation involves an exploration of the present moment experience through the four foundations of mindfulness; mind states, physical sensations, emotional tone and environment.
The informal practice of mindfulness involves attending to your everyday life with a discerning, open heart and mind. Here’s the thing, everyday life get’s messy so mindfulness is a way to help us reset when we find ourselves wound up with stress and off-balance.
Mindfulness research has shown that the recovery time from stress is shorter when you have a well developed mindfulness practice. The evidence shows the brain can literally change in ways that make you more resilient and able to bounce back.
Stress is the result of two things.
1. We experience a change is needed or we have a demand to meet.
2. We think we don’t have the resources to meet that demand.
For this to happen we need to appraise a situation. We underestimate and often consider things we don’t know to be a threat because of evolutionary survival mechanisms. The mind is highly judgmental, we are deeply conditioned with fear and can be critical of ourselves and others.
It’s not uncommon for humans to overlay their experiences with stories and narratives we cling to that keep us perpetuating cycles of stress. But stress no matter how common it is in our modern life is not healthy for us; left unchecked it can become chronic and make us more vulnerable to disease and illness.
How does stress look at as everyday experience? Have you ever had a difficult meeting at work with a manager you don’t like? You come home that evening feeling agitated, you overplay events in your mind, with your shoulders up around your ears, your muscles get more and more tense, tummy churns and then you struggle to go to sleep because your mind is now racing. You know it’s the past but your mind works hard to resolve it by playing it on repeat.
The Physiology of Stress
When we experience something we dislike our nervous systems sends an impulse that causes us to have a fight/flight reaction in our sympathetic nervous system. This impulse is based on memory filters and triggers automatic reactive patterns often dating all the way back to our childhood when we didn’t have the skill or understanding that we do now as adults.
Sometimes we form a worldview based on early childhood experiences and then we go around as an adult without ever considering it might be time to update those early formed beliefs instead of just assuming they are the absolute truth.
Mindfulness allows the parasympathetic nervous system to regulate our emotions and help us feel calmer, able to rest and use less energy. Mindfulness helps us to see clearly and learn how to let go of unhelpful thoughts about the past or future and be more present and able to experience the felt sense of our bodies. Mindfulness develops our awareness which is equally as important as thinking. It can also be helpful for shifting your perspective when thoughts are not helpful.
Navigating Life with Mindfulness
With a consistent mindfulness practice we can become more insightful, notice unhelpful patterns and break free from self-sabotage or bias and have greater freedom of mind. We can reduce thinking about the future too much or ruminating on past and be more present in life as it unfolds.
Reducing stress and anxiety with mindfulness can be a more self-compassionate and healthier option than reaching for another drink, comfort food or fill in the blank of your favourite consumer habit to boost up your mood, numb out or soothe yourselves.
We can use mindfulness to reduce our tensions without any harm to our body, mind, each other or the planet. Mindfulness can also help us learn more about our bodies natural wisdom and how to tune in and listen to the cues it can tell us about our energy, hunger and health. We can discover the mind body connection.
We can slow down our reactions and start to be more discerning about what we say yes and no to, discover more skilfully where our edges are and be kinder and gentler to our bodies when they eventually age and slow down.
Mindfulness can help you be more aware of and present for everything. Just like knowing when you need sleep, eating smaller meals, letting go of the need to be busy, exercising, being more engaged at work and connecting with loved ones.
Mindfulness helps you fall in love with your life, bare the broken heartedness and suffering we all experience at times and ultimately be able to let go with greater ease and acceptance that life is ultimately an impermanent experience.
Tips for Starting a Meditation Practice
To start a meditation practice there’s a few things that can help you along the pathway. But just be curious and give it a go.
• No matter what happens do it, these are your moment to moment experiences. You don’t need to be relaxed to begin with.
• If your mind wanders just bring it back gently and kindly there is nothing wrong with a wandering mind.
• Let go of ideas about ‘doing it right’, or ‘doing it wrong.’
• Let go of expectations about what meditation will do for you.
• Don’t strive, stay open and curious to the present moment.
• Sometimes it is not relaxing to meditate but still do it, learning to be with all states can be helpful.
• If you experience an adverse reaction to meditation seek the guidance of a qualified MBSR or MBCT teacher to help you.
• Try approaching it with an attitude of “ok”, just the way things are right now.
• Try meditating for 15-20 minutes at least once a day.
• Cue mindfulness throughout your day by checking into the body and breath.
• Practice with your colleagues at work.
• Start Mindful daily habits (tea drinking, walking, showering, gardening)
• Ask your boss to implement a mindfulness program at work.
• Download the FREE Insight Timer and try Melbourne Coach’s mindfulness meditations.
• Visit the Melbourne Coach website for more resources.