Mindfulness can be described as ‘present moment awareness’. It involves both formal practices such as meditation - of which there are a wide variety of techniques - and informal practices that are integrated into day-to-day life. Informal mindfulness techniques can be as simple as taking a minute to observe the quality of your breath or taking time to give your full attention to eating a meal. Simple strategies such as these remind us to focus fully on what it is that we are doing in any given moment and help us develop the capacity to be more patient, perceptive, calm and ultimately more present. Taking time each day to simply get in touch with our senses can profoundly improve our quality of life.
It is often assumed that meditation is effective because it helps us to stop thinking. On the contrary, meditation works because it trains the mind to be more attentive, which enables us to perceive the world with more clarity. Sustaining a mindfulness practice helps cultivate our ability to respond to life's challenges in ways that benefit ourselves and those around us.
In the past 30 years there has been a huge amount of research supporting the use of mindfulness training to improve health and well-being including; improving sleep, dealing with stress (which is a major cause of many chronic health conditions) and enhancing performance and interpersonal skills.
How does it work?
Read on for a bit about the science behind mindfulness including the actual changes in your brain and how you can get started!
Changes in the brain
Studies have shown that after 8 weeks of mindfulness training there is an increase in grey matter in brain areas associated with attention and emotional regulation. There is also increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex which is a predictor of happiness and well-being.
Mindfulness and pain
Including mind-body components in the treatment of chronic pain conditions such as chronic low back pain has been long supported by research and recently studies have shown mindfulness based stress reduction programs have a positive effect on these patient groups. Reductions in pain with mindfulness training are thought to be due to activating brain regions associated with the self-control of pain and deactivating the thalamus which is responsible for allowing sensory information to higher areas of the cortex, thus causing signals about pain to fade away.
What does mindfulness training involve?
Mindfulness based stress reduction is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to present moment. The focus on increasing awareness and acceptance of moment-to-moment experiences including physical discomfort and difficult emotions. It is basically about stepping out of the auto pilot mode we often function in and being aware of what your body is doing right now. It involves learning how to meditate, recognising and improving breathing patterns and often incorporates movement such as yoga and pilates.
Tips on getting started
Unfortunately most of us can't just flit off to Bali and immerse ourselves in the zen of yoga and meditation as often as we'd like but the reality is once you learn some basic techniques mindfulness is something that can be incorporated into your daily life, even just 10 minutes a day can make a difference!
For those of us that have not practiced meditation before, the thought of sitting silently and focusing on yourself can be daunting so guided meditation is a good way to start and there are some great apps out there such as 'Headspace' which guides your through short daily practices. Incorporating exercise in to your life is also an important part of creating that mind-body connection especially exercise such as yoga and pilates that focus on body awareness and breathing.
To learn about our Mindfulness and Movement course starting on the 18th of Feb click HERE