Mindfulness – Why is it so important?
You know that feeling when you’re supposed to be focusing on one thing but your mind keeps wandering and you forget what you are doing? That’s the opposite of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is when you are truly present, aware of your surroundings and what you are doing, but most importantly accepting all of these without judgement, without feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
Thanks to recent studies involving brain imaging, there is now hard scientific evidence of how mindfulness is beneficial to us. One study of MRI scans show, after an 8 week mindfulness course, participants’ amygdala (the “fight or flight” part of the brain) shrunk, meaning our primal stress response is replaced with more thoughtful “higher order” brain functions. There was also a connection between the amount of hours meditated and the amount of shrinkage. We can physically change our brains (for the better!) with mindfulness.
Evidence from multiple studies show improvement across a range of conditions including reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and many others. And even if you don’t suffer from any of these, many studies, including a recent one from Harvard, have linked mindfulness and meditation to reduced stress levels and improved cognitive skills such as focus and memory – which most of us can always improve on!
High tech companies including Google and Apple are now integrating meditation and mindfulness into their staff’s schedules. This three-thousand-year old practice is moving away from its religious and spiritual roots, and is now widely accepted and praised for its physical and emotional benefits to health and performance.
As an example, in studies of those in pain, advanced meditators report feeling much less pain than no meditators, even though their brain scans showed more activity. The region that is associated with unpleasantness and pain (anterior cingulate cortex) and prefrontal cortex seem to become “uncoupled” in meditators, suggesting that they were able to “disconnect” from the adverse reaction and in turn reduce the stressing nature of the pain – and not just when they were in a meditative state. It’s not that they have blocked the pain, but they are not interacting with the thoughts of pain. How amazing is that?
Mindfulness isn’t just about getting into a state of meditation for hours, it’s easy to incorporate into your daily schedule. It’s all about living in the present, and not thinking or worrying about the past or the future, even if “the future” is pondering what you’re going to cook for dinner tonight.
An easy way to begin is to take ten minutes to focus on and engage all your senses. Try it in the shower – instead of thinking about what you’re going to wear today or the Netflix show you watched last night, focus purely on what you are physically feeling in these moments. The warm water and how it feels on your skin, the scent of your shower gel, the sound of the water and your breathing. Taking in all these sensations allows the perfect opportunity to live in the present with peace of mind.