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Mindfulness

What is mindfulness: 

Mindfulness simply means being in the moment and embracing your experience without judgement or planning.  And although this sounds very simple in principle, in reality it is much harder to practice. Our brain is wired to react to events and stressful situations in a defensive or offensive mode, which in turn will cause more anxiety and stress. Mindfulness teaches you to step back, slow down your brain reactionary mode and make more conscious decisions. 

 

For example, you are leaving work late and you dread the evening rush hour traffic. Usually this makes you frustrated and angry, people cutting in front of you, others texting and not paying attention to the traffic light. Your reactionary and subconscious mode may make you frustrated and angry:  thinking about how you hate your commute, you get home tired and in a bad mood. By being mindful, you learn to  embrace the moment. You accept that you can not change the outcome or the process, you are just there for the ride. This way you can prepare yourself and make plans to enhance your experience. You accept that everyone else in the rode is in the same boat and no one is there to get you. So, instead of being frustrated, you just take it as it comes. Instead of getting frustrated, you embrace the moment: Listen to a podcast, make a couple of phone calls and catch up with old friends, even set up phone work meetings. Mindfulness allows your conscious brain to take over your subconscious reactionary modes. 

Mindfullness and wellbeing:

Practicing mindfulness is more than just a new trend. In fact mindfulness has been practiced by various religious and cultures such as Buddhism  for centuries. However, it is only until recently that practice of mindfulness has gained mainstream attention. Over the past couple of decades there has been a surge of randomized clinical trials (the gold standard of medical research)  that has shown the benefits of mindfulnss in :

  • Improving mood

  • reducing stress and anxiety

  • reducing rumination

There is also some research, albeit not as strong, that suggest mindfulness can improve:

  • body pain 

  • disorders such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and fibromyalgia

  • improve memory 

  • improve productivity

In summary, practicing mindfulness can have significant psychosocial and even cognitive benefits. Give it a try and see for yourself how it can improve your health and mood. 

Couple in Car

How to start: 

Evolutionary our brains are wired for a fight or flight survival mode. But we now live in a civilized society and those evolutionary changes may not be as essential to our survival in daily life. Mindfulness is a practice that teaches you to dampen this survival mode and instead use your conscious and more active part of brain. Just like any change, this one takes time and practice. 

If you are new to mindfulness then it is best to try and spend 5-15 minutes a day on the following practice to prime your brain. This practice teaches your brain to dissociate itself from all judgements and instead focus on the now and present moment:

Guided Meditation
  1. Set aside 5-10 minutes. Find a room or place that is quite with no distractions. 

  2. Sit up straight on a chair, couch or ground. Do not lay dawn. 

  3. Make sure your back is straight and you have a good upright posture. 

  4. Relax your arms and legs, take the tension off your facial muscles, try to relax your body as much as you can while holding an upright posture. 

  5. Start breathing slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on your breathing, feel the air as it flows in and out.

  6. Try to free your mind. Try not think about anything, just focus on your breathing and the present moment. 

  7. More likely than not you will start thinking about various things, your day, upcoming tasks, bills to pay,... That is fine, dont fight your stream of consciousness, rather acknowledge those thoughts, but don't dwell on them,  just move on, let them pass. Take your mind off by refocusing on your breathing. This is by far the hardest part of this exercise, and the most important part. But only after a few sessions you will become very good at it.

Be sure to turn off all electronic devices and set an alarm so you don't have to worry about time. 

Here is a couple other practices for learning to become more mindful:

1. Object Observation: Pick out a specific visual detail on something you can pick up like a leaf, flower, coaster, or even a toothbrush. Look at that one distinct part of the object you are holding and focus intently on that detail, being fully immersed in the moment. As your mind starts to wander, re-focus on what you have in your hand. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes every day. Change the object regularly to add variety to the exercise.

2. Negative Thought Re-Direction: When you sense your mind heading towards negative thoughts based in the past or future, be aware and again re-direct the mind to something in the present. Pick anything in the room on which to center your mind, letting go of those pessimistic and anxiety-provoking sensations. Again, spend at least 5 minutes intensely immersed in the details of something in the present, allowing enough time for those negative thoughts to fade away. Use this exercise as often as needed.

Touching Flowers

Becoming mindful: 

The practices above are a great way to start and prime your brain to become mindful. In fact, research has shown that 1-2 five minute sessions per week can have long lasting effect on your brain function. But how do you transition your short exercise to your daily life? 

There is really no one short answer, and as mentioned before being mindful takes time and practice. But here are some examples and suggestions on common daily activities that you can practice being mindful,hopefully by following these examples you will be able to train your brain to be more mindful of all your life experiences. 

  • Waking up: instead of jumping out of bed, take just a few short seconds thinking about your upcoming day. What are your goals, plans, what do you expect to accomplish from your day. Think of any potential stressful situations that you expect to arise, and remind yourself to be mindful during the experience. Plan to embrace it as best as you can without judgement. This is a great way to make a potential stressful experience into a more pleasant or at least manageable and less stressful one. 

  • Brushing your teeth and washing your face, instead of just doing the motions, try to pay attention to what you are feeling, the freshness in your mouth, the massage of your teeth and gum, transform a mindless rudimentary experience into a mindful one. 

  • Putting your clothes in: take a look at your clothes, what brings you joy, any particular dress for your day? feel your clothes, see yourself in the mirror. Be in the moment. Again, take a rudimentary chore and transform it in to a more meaningful experience. 

  • Eating and drinking: instead of grabbing something quick out of the cabinet, think about your food options, what are you in the mood for? And while eating, slow down, try to enjoy your meal, eat slowly and use all your senses to taste, smell and texture of the food you are eating.

  • Exercising: instead of just doing the motions and trying to get to the end, try to be in the moment. This is your time to relax and detach your thoughts from your daily stress. Focus on your posture and body movement, pay attention to your arms, legs, how your body moves and how each joint feels. Identify areas that are more stiff or weaker and pay more attention to them. 

Eating Watermelon

These exercises will teach your brain to be more attentive to the present and detach itself from all the other events in your life. You will learn to focus on task at hand and give it all your attention. Mindfulness, when mastered can increase your productivity and reduce your stress, negative thoughts and over all burn out. So, give it a shot.