You may have heard the word mindfulness over the last few years as it has become a buzz word in the self-help industry, and even in the corporate world recently. However, there seem to be quite a few misconceptions about what it actually is. So having recently attended a “Mindfulness in Coaching” training day, I thought I would share my learning, debunk some of the myths surrounding it, and explain how it could help you in your daily life.
So why has it become so popular over the last few years? Well the answer is people are increasingly being pushed to their limits. They are expected to work harder for longer hours in stressful environments. In addition to demanding work schedules, our brains are constantly being over stimulated by TV, internet, and smart phones. So, it’s no surprise that people are stressed out, and that depression is at an all-time high. As a result, people are looking for new healthy ways to deal stress, and mindfulness has proved to be very effective.
Where did it come from?
Well it might surprise you to learn that although its origins are from traditional Buddhist teachings, the original pioneer was actually a medical scientist called Jon Kabat-Zinn. He was inspired by what he had learned from Buddhism, and began to develop a new system in the late 1970’s to help people suffering from stress, anxiety, and the pain caused by illness.
But before we get into how it works lets debunk some of the myths surrounding mindfulness.
What it isn’t….
• It is not religious or spiritual (although people may incorporate it into a spiritual lifestyle).
• It isn’t about emptying your mind, or not thinking.
• It’s not about creating false happiness or pretending that everything is ok all the time.
• It isn’t just another name for traditional meditation.
• It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or slow down your productivity.
What it actually is…
If you examine your thinking, you will notice that you actually spend most of your time either thinking about the past, or focusing on the future. Our attention is rarely in the present moment. We are constantly trying to predict the future based on our past, and are never satisfied with where we are, or what we’ve got. These habitual thought patterns are the foundation of anxiety, stress, and depression.
Mindfulness can be described as the following:
Being present in the moment. Placing your full attention on your mind, body, and surroundings without any judgement or mental resistance.
You might also describe it as being in a state of flow.
Imagine trying to clean a muddy pond – no matter how hard you work the water just gets cloudier. But if you become still the mud settles all by its self, and you can see clearly once again. Your mind works in the same way when you practice mindfulness.
What are the benefits…?
• Clarity of thinking.
• Relaxation and peace of mind.
• Inspiration and creativity.
• Improved decision making.
• Helps build emotional intelligence.
• Boosts the immune system.
• A better night’s sleep.
But the most interesting thing I discovered is that regular practice will actually cause physical changes to your brain. For example the part of your brain called the hippocampus literally gets larger which means your memory will improve. Another physical change is that your amygdala gets smaller, which is the part of your brain that controls fear, and your fight or flight response. So there is a scientific evidence to prove that it reduces anxiety.
So how do you do it…?
Mindfulness isn’t something that can really be understood intellectually. You need to experience it by doing it, and the best way to learn is to sign up to an 8-week introductory course run by a qualified trainer. It is also similar to developing any muscle – you need to commit to regular practice to see the long term benefits. But here are some of the exercises you will learn when you attend a course.
Mindful breathing techniques – becoming present through focusing on your breathing, and I don’t just mean sit there breathing deeply, REALLY take some time to experience what it means to breath in and out. Put your full attention on it and notice the feelings and sensations. Your mind will naturally start to wander, but don’t beat your self up – simply put your attention back on your breath and keep the process going for about 15 minutes.
Body scan – putting your attention on different parts of the body starting with your feet and moving up gradually until your focus is on the whole body.
Mindful eating – eating with a heightened level of awareness. Noticing the smells, tastes, chewing movement, and textures of the food you are eating.
Mindful walking – walking with a heightened sense of awareness. Paying attention to the detail in your movement and the surfaces you are walking on.
The truth is you can be mindful in whatever activity you are doing, and you don’t have to be alone. Some of the greatest benefits can be experienced in the work place. Think of it more as a way of being rather than a series of exercises. When you are fully present and connected with your mind and body, you will experience greater peace of mind, even when you are surrounded with high levels of activity. Which is why companies like Google, and even the US army actively encourage the practice of mindfulness to their employees.
I would like to finish this blog with a quote:
“Mindfulness isn’t the answer to all life’s problems, but life’s problems become clearer when seen through the lens of a quiet mind”
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