You’ve probably heard about mindfulness, you probably own a colouring book designed to promote it, but do you know what it actually is?
As you read this, wiggle your toes. Feel the way they push against your shoes, and the weight of your feet on the floor. Really think about what your feet feel like right now – their heaviness… The term “mindfulness” is one which refers to a psychological state of awareness and the practices that help create this awareness.
Originally an ancient Buddhist meditation technique, in recent years mindfulness has evolved into a range of therapies and courses, most of them focused on being aware of the present moment and simply noticing feelings and thoughts as they come and go.
There are a range of practices which can cultivate mindfulness, including yoga, tai chi and qigong, as well as mindfulness through meditation; these practices focus the mind on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and foster a general mental well-being, calmness, clarity and concentration.
Research suggests that mindfulness promotes cognitive awareness, decreases our ability to become distracted and in turn increases our concentration through gains in working memory. Mindful practices are being explored by schools, pro sports teams and military units in an effort to enhance performance, and it is showing promise as a way of helping sufferers of chronic pain, addiction and tinnitus, too. There is even some evidence that mindfulness can help with the symptoms of certain physical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, and HIV. Mindfulness benefits include:
- Increased concentration and focus
- Stress reduction
- Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Improved memory
- Increased confidence
- Improved control over emotions
- Improved working memory
- More cognitive flexibility
- Better relationships
In one study, participants were randomly assigned to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) group were compared with a group of self-confessed sufferers of depression and anxiety. The two groups watched a selection of sad films and upon completion the researchers found that the participants who had taken part in the MBSR course had significantly less anxiety and depression than the control group. This research suggests that mindfulness meditation shifts people’s ability to regulate their emotions.
MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is the centre of the body’s response to stress. As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker. The “functional connectivity” between these regions – i.e. how often they are activated together – also changes. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.
Perhaps it is the new age, quasi-spiritual connotations of meditation and a fear of hippies that has stood in the way of mindfulness being given the importance it deserves in today’s fast paced world. Research is helping overcome this perception, and ten minutes of mindfulness could soon become an accepted, stress-busting part of our daily health regimen, just like going to the gym or brushing our teeth.
If you want to be ahead of the curve and start making changes in your life, why not join or Mindful Based Stress Reduction Course today. In just eight weeks you will learn the tools to manage your stress and live a more mindful life.