You may have read many books and articles on mindfulness and still felt no nearer to knowing what mindfulness is and yet it may have ignited an interest due to the benefits it expounds.
The leading proponents describe it as follows:
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society proposes it as “A particular way of paying attention: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.”
Vidymala Burch, co-founder of Breathworks, defines it “Live in the moment, notice what is happening and make choices in how you respond to your experience rather than being driven by habitual reactions.” https://youtu.be/6e0XQN5lN_M
Addressing our key challenges
Much of our time we live our lives on “autopilot”. Our brain is a learning system and once it learns a task and subsequently creates a strong neural pathway through repetition, it devotes less of its time and resources to performing routine and mundane tasks. However, this tendency to do things automatically can become an issue if we spend too much time on auto-pilot because we then don’t know what our mind is doing so it tends to go down well-worn habitual routes (neural pathways) which often leads to rumination about the past or worrying about the future. Much of this reflection happens outside of our conscious awareness so we often do not even notice the devastating effects it can have on our emotional experience. It is all too easy to “slip” into one mood after the other or to spiral into a state of anxiety or depression and then wonder how exactly we got there.
Mindfulness helps us see what the mind does and so gives us some choice.
Research suggests that up to 70% of our time is spent mind-wandering particularly when feeling stretched and stressed. This time may be spent re-running events that have already happened or envisioning future events and the potential negative outcomes that may arise. As a consequence, we often find ourselves reacting to situations in often unhelpful ways because we are simply not present to our experiences as they are unfolding. We find ourselves not able to choose an appropriate response or make an informed decision because we are not fully conscious to all that is happening around us.
However, we can learn to train our minds out of the habit of mind-wandering and into the more helpful habit of full awareness of the present moment which leads to choice in responding and informed decision making which helps to free us from the cycle of chronic stress.
Research shows that we are biased toward processing threat-based information. This bias is built into the very structure of our brain and drives all of our instincts and emotions and it is also reflected in the body’s hormonal system. Negative information captures our attention, thinking, and memory more powerfully than positive information. Threat-based emotions (fear, anger, disgust) organise our brain and bodies in powerful ways that motivate us to ‘protect’ ourselves and ‘eliminate the source of threat’ to ‘stay safe’. This negativity bias shapes the way we see and respond to the world around us. It is the main reason why the mind focuses on pain and suffering with laser sharpness and we often do not notice the many pleasant things in our lives.
Neuroscience shows us that our brain is highly “plastic” which means that it is constantly adapting and changing its architecture. We can, with mindfulness, rewire our own brain by gently soothing the brain networks that maintain the bias.
Physical and emotional tension is caused by automatic and unaware breath-holding. It seems that when we are stressed and/or in pain, we develop compromised breathing patterns often involving breath-holding. This is sometimes known as the Vicious Cycle of Breathing in that this disturbed breathing pattern will tend to escalate levels of distress in the body showing up as pain and can trigger emotional distress which will further prolong the compromised breathing pattern. The latest research shows that we can relax our brain through the breath; it is linked to the brain’s pacemaker for the breath.
Mindfulness can teach us how to breathe more optimally which will initialise the Virtuous Cycle of Whole Body Breathing which will help dissolve both physical pain and strengthen emotional resilience and reduce feelings of anxiety, fear and even anger. It can be utilised to great effect in times of stress.
Mindfulness will not eliminate life’s pressures but it can help us respond to them in a calmer manner. It helps us live with a sense of possibility and choice rather than existing on ‘autopilot’. By developing a new relationship with the conditions that we find ourselves in, we find that experiences don’t overwhelm us and we can remain steady through life’s ups and downs.
For more info about how Mindfulness can help you, head over to the How Can It Help You? section. Also, if you’d like to find out more about Breathworks and their methods you can click on About Breathworks