Chapter 6

Practice Mindfulness

The choices you make and the activity of your nervous system are closely intertwined, with each greatly influencing the other. Mental well-being impacts family and relationships, daily activities, as well as job performance and overall physical health.

Latest scientific studies suggest mindfulness as an effective, natural, non-invasive, and empowering way to improve mental health.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness originates from ancient Eastern and Buddhist philosophy, dating back around 2500 years. It’s a practice that requires an active focus on the present moment without any judgement. It involves paying attention to what’s going on, both the inside and outside, emphasising on the need to be aware of thoughts and feelings as they arise in real-time.

The majority of life is spent disconnected from our surroundings, consumed by our thoughts. Rushing through life may lead to emotional reactions and behaviours which aren’t necessarily healthy for us, nor for our relationships with others. Mindfulness emphasises on the reconnection with our body and sensory experiences, that come from simply being in the present moment.

Being mindful enables us to observe our stream of thoughts and emotions without being entangled in them. Mindfulness practices help to deal with stress and anxiety in a productive way, as anxiety only evolved to induce an action. The goal of mindfulness is to wake up the inner us, not to quiet the mind.

Why Practise Mindfulness?

Mindfulness-based therapies are recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to treat less severe depression, and employers are continuously being encouraged to make mindfulness available to support mental wellbeing at work.

Research revealed that individuals who practised mindful meditation for 8 at least weeks had reduced levels of stress hormones, like cortisol. Regular mindfulness practice was also seen to significantly reduce levels of inflammatory markers.

People who regularly engage in mindful activities are more likely to live longer due to decreased risk factors related to chronic illnesses [1].

The Science Behind

The mechanisms behind the benefits of mindfulness are complex and multifaceted. Mindfulness promotes changes in brain function and physiology that contribute to numerous mental and physical health benefits, including protection against neurodegenerative diseases, immune or chronic illnesses [2].

Mindfulness practice can lead to changes in the:

  • prefrontal cortex, responsible for attention and emotional regulation.
  • amygdala, involved in processing emotions such as fear and anxiety.
  • autonomic nervous system, decreasing stress response and increasing parasympathetic activity which is responsible for relaxation and rest.

Mindfulness has also been shown to increase activity in the default mode network, involved in self-referential thinking and mind wandering.

Tuning into Mindfulness

Mindfulness is available to us at every moment, no matter where we are, or what we are doing. Here’s how to make it an integral part of your life:

  1. Start noticing the little thingsPay attention to the small things around you, like the feeling of the sun on your skin, your feet on the ground, or the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. Noticing tiny details  automatically makes you more present and aware.
  2. Make it a daily practice
    Set aside a regular time each day to focus on your senses and your surroundings. This could be during your morning coffee or your evening walk. Consistency is key to developing mindfulness.
  3. Shake up your routineTry doing something new every now and then, to help you see things from a fresh perspective. This could be as simple as taking a different route to work, or trying new food. When you approach the world with curiosity, you engage with it in a non-judgmental way, and explore it with a sense of wonder and interest.
  4. Label your emotionsName your emotions as they arise, such as “I’m feeling anxious” or “I’m feeling happy”. This will help you become more aware of your emotional state and how it affects you. Nobody can be happy at all times. Humans are made to feel a whole spectrum of emotions. When you label your emotions, you can also become more familiar with your own emotional patterns or tendencies, rather than reacting to them impulsively. It’s the ideal road to self-improvement.
  5. Let go of past and futureFocus on the present moment and let go of worries about the past or future, for you have no control over them. Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future can generate negative emotions such as regret, guilt, anxiety, and stress.

Types of Meditation

Meditation is a mindfulness-promoting tool, that cultivates peace and contentment by training our attention and awareness. With regular practice, meditation can enhance our ability to be mindful in our daily lives, leading to greater well-being and resilience [3].

The best time to meditate is when it works best for you and your schedule. It can be practised for as little as a few minutes or for a longer duration, depending on your preferences and availability. The trick is to set aside some time to practice some form of meditation daily.

Meditating before bedtime can help:

  • relax and wind down as you prepare yourself for sleep.
  • reflect on your day with more kindness and gratitude.

Starting your day with meditation can:

  • promote a positive and compassionate mindset to set the day right.
  • help reduce stress, bring in more attention, and mental clarity.
  1. Body scan meditation:This involves lying down or sitting comfortably, be it on your couch, chair, yoga matt or bed. Slowly focus your attention on each part of your body, starting from your toes and moving upwards. This helps to tune in to physical sensations and be present in the moment.
  2. Loving-kindness meditation:This meditation involves sending kind thoughts and well wishes to yourself and loved ones in any form. This helps to cultivate a sense of well-being and also improves feelings of compassion and empathy towards others.
  3. Walking meditation: Our walking is usually hurried, if we are walking at all. Walking meditation involves walking slowly and mindfully, paying attention to the sensations of each step and the environment around you. It can be practised in nature, such as in a park or forest.
  4. Chanting meditation: This type of meditation can be calming and can help to clear your mind of distracting thoughts. Mantra chanting involves repeating a specific word or phrase (usually in Sanskrit; Aum, Aum Namah Shivaya) in a rhythmic way. Sound meditation involves focusing on a particular sound, such as singing bowl, gong or chime. Vipassana chanting involves chanting a specific text (i.e. “Metta Sutta’’, a Buddhist scripture that promotes loving-kindness and compassion towards oneself and others).
  5. Visualisation meditation: This involves creating mental images of peaceful or positive scenes, such as beaches, forests, mountains or gardens. Healing visualisation, on the other hand, involves imagining yourself surrounded by healing light, and visualising your body and mind getting stronger and stronger with each breath. Interestingly, visualisation meditation can also be used to manage physical discomfort or pain.
  6. Breath awareness meditation: Most people are familiar with this type of meditation. It involves focusing on the sensations of your breath, as it enters and leaves your body. Breath awareness meditation can be particularly helpful before engaging in a task that requires your full attention, such as studying, working on a project, or practising a skill.

Philosophy Behind Mindfulness

From a philosophical perspective, mindfulness basically teaches us how important it is to appreciate life even during difficult times — something we often forget amidst chaos and negativity surrounding us everyday. When faced with adversity, rather than getting bogged down by negative emotions, try looking inward and asking yourself: “What am I learning from this experience? What will I do differently next time? How can I grow from here?”.

Life is simply a learning process. Anxiety evolved to push us to act. Mindfulness will help build resilience over the long term, leading to a healthier, happier, and longer life.

Next Chapter
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