Why is there such a buzz around mindfulness and how can meditating be used to help with stress and lower the number of doctor’s visits you have each year?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.”
Jon Kabat Zinn
Mindfulness is a relatively simple concept but, for the average person in our highly stimulated, ‘plugged in’ society’ it can be as difficult to conquer as finishing a marathon. There is also a misconception that meditating means being able to clear all thoughts from your mind and maybe floating once in a while! It’s neither of those things, but it does require dedication, practice and patience. A typical meditation consists of focusing your full attention on your breath. In doing this you can begin to observe the thoughts you are having and to let go of fighting against them or engaging with them.
“Mindfulness meditation is choosing to be more fully present, noting any resistance, accepting it and continually choosing to be present with patience and perseverance”
The benefit of mindfulness comes from being able to understand that thoughts are transient, they come and go and it is your choice as to whether you act on them or not. The techniques you can use are also simple and can be done at any time of the day, for any length of time. All you need to do is stop, get comfortable and close your eyes. Some techniques from here include:
- Listening intensely to sounds around you. Such as birds chirping or another person talking
- Breathing and focusing on your breath
- Feeling the water on you when showering, the temperature, the rhythm, the sound
- Let your body go soft. Laying down, or sitting comfortably and feeling your body, the physical sensations, the movements, travelling with your mind from the toes to the crown of your head
Mindfulness is about observation; being compassionate and when negative thoughts enter you learn to treat them as if they were clouds in the sky, and to observe them with curiosity as they drift past. Doing this allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral. It begins the process of putting you back in control of your life and ultimately, reducing your stress levels.
Here at Empower Studio, our approach is mainly focused on inducing the ‘Relaxation Response’ coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, professor, author, cardiologist, and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute. Stress, as we know, is not just situational (job, social life), or the reality of a life event (death/illness) it is also biological. Caused mainly by the release of the chemicals adrenaline and cortisol our bodies (from the beginning of time) are programmed to either engage in the fight, or run away. The relaxation response reverses this and encourages your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain.
The Relaxation Response is essentially the opposite reaction to the “fight or flight” response.
By using mindfulness to essentially ‘turn off’ fight or flight it can bring the body back to pre-stress levels and is a great skill that can help us deal with life’s ups and downs. It can help relieve and prevent depression, lower anxiety levels and other studies have shown that regular meditators see their doctors less often and spend fewer days in hospital in their lifetime. Something else we teach our students is Dr Gary Schwartz’s ACE factor. Essentially the link between the immune system and thoughts, feelings and behavior – it’s the idea that ‘feeling is healing’ If you ignore your own needs then it’s only a matter of time before you fall foul to illness, both in the form of perceived disease, i.e. stress, anxiety or depression and also actual physical discomfort such as; inflammation, headaches, autoimmune diseases or indeed, cancers. Stress it seems – is not only horrible to live with, but it is making you really sick too.
Albert Einstein said:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when creating them”
Einstein here is saying that we shouldn’t use our ‘thinking mind’ to solve the many problems it has caused us in the first place. Instead, he points us to connect deeper with ourselves, with our aware mind and through this learn to better observe our thinking mind and thus stop reacting to its many ruminations. This in turn leads to many benefits, not least far less stress, pain, suffering and emotional reactivity but moreover a gradual disassociation with our thinking mind.
Ultimately, at Empower Studio we believe in treating the mind first – the body will follow.
On top of treating stress, here are the top ten benefits of mindfulness:
- Less emotional reactivity
- Improves energy levels
- Balances blood pressure
- Eases aches and pains
- Increases our empathy
- Reduces feelings of loneliness
- Improves decision making
- Improves resilience
Slows down neurodegenerative diseases
To learn more about Mindfulness and to start your own journey to wellness, get in touch with Andy for a free 30 minute consultation.