Never in human history have we enjoyed such a level of materialistic abundance.
However most of us will agree that this has not brought us an equivalent level of happiness.
Might it be that part of this misalignment is due to the fact that we live in an overstimulating world?
Businesses race to grab your attention, YouTube uses autoplay, news media are working off sensationalism, politicians use fear to keep you engaged, and of course Facebook is bombarding us with cat videos along with all the other outrages happening around the world.
This attention economy bulldozes the natural state of our physical body and mind, leaving us with little time and mental space to enjoy life.
Luckily not all is lost!
A combination of ancient techniques and modern technology give us the opportunity to recover a more natural state of mind.
In this article you’ll learn the basics of mindfulness, understand why it is so important and how to incorporate it into your daily training routine.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation, the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment, is a growing trend in mental health practice.
In the west, mindfulness started getting attention around 1970 (around the same time as the Paleolithic diet) as a therapeutic tool to help patients with chronic illness.
In modern psychological research, meditation has been defined and characterized in a variety of ways; many of these emphasize the role of attention.
The ability to control attention, for example, to focus on positive thoughts rather than negative ones, trains our mind to avoid distraction.
Mindfulness is becoming increasingly more important in the workplace. Well-known companies like Apple and Google are implementing programs for employees to increase emotional intelligence using mindfulness training.
More than 20.000 people have already taken the “Search Inside Yourself” program that Google created in 2007. Furthermore, a 2005 study conducted on health care professionals showed vast improvements in perceived stress levels after undergoing a 8-week course of mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is even being used in several elementary schools, throughout the US, when children are acting out. Instead of a punishment scheme, many schools are opting to coach the children to manage their mis-behaviour through breathing exercises and techniques.
Difference between Attention and Mindfulness
Attention is the act of focusing, while mindfulness is attention coupled with meta-awareness.
In practice it is quite simple when we use focused breathing.
By focusing on breathing, we become aware of the mind’s tendency to constantly jump from one thought to another. By controlling our breathing, we can train our minds to centre back to the present moment.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
A popular form of Mindfulness practice is MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction).
MBSR was originally created to help patients related with chronic pain issues or stress-related disorders deal with their perceived stress.
However, stress reduction is just one of the many benefits of mindfulness meditation.
Stress really does affect our entire body.
It can shut down the immune system, cause depression, damage the cardiovascular system and even impair our memory.
One study shows various patients who suffered from social anxiety saw a decrease in their anxiety and depression through MBSR, as well as an increase in their overall self-esteem.
Decreased depression symptoms
Mindfulness meditation can also help prevent the relapse of depression.
Researchers studied the effectiveness of mindfulness practices on preventing depression.
The result showed a significant decrease in the occurrence of a relapse in those who had completed an 8-week program (37% compared with 66% of the control group).
The NeuroReport published a study that tracked the effects of meditation on the structure of the brain.
Subjects included meditations and yoga instructors, as well as participants who meditated for at least 40 minutes per day. The results showed that regular meditation practices actually thickened the cortical layer of the brain which is responsible for attention, interoception, and sensory processing.
Mindfulness training may also affect your ability to harbor healthy social relationships.
A research study, from the Public Library of Science, testing the impact of meditation on empathy, demonstrated that experienced meditators showed a strong emotional response to both positive and negative audio stimuli.
This suggests that meditation might increase our sense of compassion for others and improve social interactions.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill demonstrated in this study, that couples who have lived together for 12 months or more and were given an 8-week mindfulness meditation showed enhanced relationship happiness. These results were even maintained three months following the study.
Nirbhay N. Singh, conducted a mindfulness study on a small group of parents of children with autism. As a result of a 12-week mindfulness training course, the children’s behaviour improved.
How to perform Mindful and Abdominal Breathing
Mindful breathing is the first step towards a mindful mind. It’s about being very aware of your body and your breath.
You can perform mindful exercises regularly or practice them when you are feeling stressed.
The most basic way to do mindful breathing is simply focusing your attention on inhaling and exhaling.
How to perform Mindful Breathing:
- Start by taking few exaggerated breath: deeply inhale through your nostrils for 3 seconds
- Hold your breath for 2 seconds,
- Then exhale through mouth for 4 seconds
- After you get your breath under control, return to normal breathing
While the focus of mindful breathing is not on regulating your breath, it is important in the beginning to time your breathing to get a greater understanding of how your body functions. You will notice that your breathing is normally erratic and practicing this technique can help to get it under control.
Breathing is both a voluntary and and involuntary action.
We breathe about 20,000 times a day since the moment we are born.
But experts are saying we are doing it wrong because we commonly use shallow chest-breathing which draws minimal air into the lungs rather than breathing deeply into the diaphragm.
Improving our breathing could help to lower blood pressure, decrease stress, improve athletic performance and mental performance.
A weak diaphragm will fatigue easily during exercise, meaning your muscles will not receive the optimum amount of blood flow.
Abdominal breathing allows us to breathe more deeply. It is done by making sure the abdominals rise before your chest, allowing more air into the lungs.
When you breathe in, the belly comes out and when you breathe out, the belly comes down.
How to perform Abdominal Breathing:
- Lie down comfortably on your back and position yourself with feet flat on the floor.
2. Put your hand on the belly and observe how your breathing responds.
3. You may notice your belly wants to expand. Let this happen.
4. Lift your belly as you inhale and hold it for about 5 seconds.
5. Slowly exhale and allow the belly to collapse
6. Repeat this exercise for few minutes.
Mindfulness meditation has a vast amount of benefits both psychologically and physically, for all people, from children to adults.
We hope you enjoyed reading about this topic and can benefit from the breathing exercises provided.
What are your thoughts on mindfulness and meditation to centralize your thoughts? Do you practice mindfulness?