Mindfulness: Benefits & Cultivation…
22 January 2014
As hinted at by the definitions in the previous post, “Mindfulness – What’s the Buzz”, increasing mindfulness helps one to become more focused, more creative, happier, healthier, more relaxed, and in control, and obviously, it can also help you more fully appreciate each precious “now” moment (which is all we have in reality).
There have been quite a few recent studies related to mindfulness and they have demonstrated that mindfulness training has the potential to:
1. Improve mental function, including memory and academic performance. In one particular study, students who did attention-building exercises had increased focus (with less mind-wandering), better short-term memory, and better performance on exams like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which is believed to be un-coachable.
2. Greatly help with weight loss and increased awareness, resulting in eating healthier foods. Mindful eating is paying attention to each and every bite and chewing slowly while paying attention to the sensory experience of eating (Harvard Medical School, “Womens Health”). Those who participated in mindfulness studies also lower calorie foods, even when they were hungrier than control groups.
3. Lead to better decision-making abilities. A number of experiments associate mindfulness meditation and the development of a natural tendency to be more mindfully aware with being less prone to the “sunk-cost bias,” a common tendency to stick with lost causes, such as a toxic relationship or dead-end job, simply because of one’s time and energy that has already been invested. Source: British Psychological Society (BPS) Research Digest.
4. Reduce stress and help cope with a variety of chronic health issues. A meta-analysis of 20 empirical reports found mindfulness increased both mental and physical well-being in patients with chronic pain, cancer, heart disease, and more according to Elsevier Health Sciences.
5. Improve immune function and create positive, physical changes in the brain that produced a sense of psychological well-being. The researchers measured brain activity before and after volunteers were trained in mindfulness meditation for eight-weeks, before determining these results (Psychosomatic Medicine).
These are in addition to all the other brain benefits we’ve seen from mindfulness meditation, e.g.; better focus, more creativity, less anxiety and depression, and more compassion, just to name a few.
How to Practice Cultivating Mindfulness…
Unfortunately, becoming mindful isn’t as simple as flipping a switch and then all of a sudden you’re locked into mindfulness for the rest of your life, although it is something you can cultivate.
By curbing distractions and just refusing to multitask for a time can help you focus more, but distraction-arresting tools might turn out to just be a sort of crutch. True mindfulness requires that you be more aware in even the busiest and most stressful situations and this is often when its usefulness as a tool is most appreciated.
An easy and effective way to get started is to set up triggers (or cues) to pull you back into the present moment whenever your mind begins to wander throughout that day. Take eating for example, remember to savor each bite, putting your fork down in between. While at work, you can set an chime, leave a post-it note or other reminder at regular intervals to remind you to pause and bring awareness into the moment. By pausing before you respond others will also help you to become more mindful in your relationships. Practices like receptive appreciation and consciously letting go of control work well to help you return to the present.
In the GRE study cited (#1 above), the mindfulness training that lead to better memory and learning involved the following six steps:
1. Sitting in an upright posture on the floor with legs crossed (or in a chair with legs straight) and gazing downward.
2. Distinguishing between naturally arising thoughts and elaborate thinking processes.
3. Minimizing the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental visualizations occurring in the present moment.
4. Using awareness of the breath (while breathing naturally) as an anchor for attention during meditation.
5. Repeatedly counting consecutive inhalations (or exhalations) for up to 21 counts.
6. Allowing the mind to return to a restful state naturally instead trying to suppress the the constant flow of thoughts.
This training may be called “mindfulness meditation” and it is one of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness. It’s an exercise for the brain, and it’s good to do it throughout all your daily activities, applying it to everything you encounter or experience.
Mindfulness is a concept reflected throughout Buddhism and no doubt the Buddha, who taught the middle way between secular (worldly) and spiritual concerns, would have agreed that there is a time for using mindfulness to discover both inner and outer truths, a time for using it to survive various challenges and tests, and a time to let go of mindfulness so that practical problems and situations may be addressed and used for creative and meaningful changes and purposes.
*Of related interest, click on: The Importance of Meditation to Yoga Practice
*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.
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