Is mindfulness really all it's cracked up to be?
Yes. 13 years ago, the practices of meditation and mindfulness helped save me from myself. And I've seen over and over how much they've helped other people too.
It's exciting that mindfulness and meditation have found their way into popular culture. At last, they have been scientifically proven to help with our minds and our bodies.
But is there a difference between the two? It can be confusing.
I use them interchangeably because in order to become good at mindfulness, you really do need to practice meditation. There are people that will argue about this, and that's fine. It is possible to practice mindfulness without meditation, but in my experience, it's not as effective. There are also people that will create differences between the two to make a particular method more palatable to the general public - which is also fine. But here's how I see it.
Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally focusing on the present moment. Just to be where you are, no matter what or how that looks or feels. Without judging it, we pay attention to whatever thoughts and emotions arise. We try not to add anything to our experience of that moment, but to be aware of what is going on, without losing ourselves in anything that arises.
Easy, right? Nope. Our minds will get distracted by sounds, sensations, and thoughts. Whenever that happens, gently recognise that you have been distracted, and bring the attention back to the breathing, or to the noticing. The key difference is being inside the thought/sensation (I call it going down the rabbit hole), and simply being aware of it’s presence. That's the difference we're looking for.
This makes our lives easier. We don't react as often. We don't stay in anxious thought as often. We find it easier to get out. We tend to ruminate less on negative thought. We tend to be happier because our worldview changes when we spend more time in each moment without thinking of a thousand other things we should be doing.
Meditation is the single best practice to bring mindfulness more into our daily lives because within that practice we learn to come back to the breath or a sound or a mantra. We learn to observe our thoughts and feelings as just thoughts and feelings. When we do this on the mat (or chair or cushion or lying down), it's easier to do in a heated or worrying moment. And it's also easier to stay within moments of joy. Our meditation practice facilitates a better mindfulness practice and a mindfulness practice facilitates a better meditation practice. They work together.
In addition, there's a whole host of mental and physical benefits we gain from meditation (these have all been cited in medical and/or psychological or psychiatric journals). Here are a few:
Brain health: Meditation helps us with concentration, productivity, and reduction of symptoms of anxiety and depression (through an increase in the neurotransmitters dopamine, GABA (anti-anxiety) and serotonin). It also lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) so oxytocin (commonly known as the love hormone) can work properly. Finally, it helps you make better decisions because your brain is not so fatigued from multi-tasking and can physically change the area of your brain responsible for Alzheimers, making you less likely to get it. Cool, huh?
Physical health: Meditation also reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, lowers your blood pressure and gives you a higher pain tolerance. And in really exciting news, it can slow down the ageing process by preserving the length of telomeres (the protective protein cap on the end of your DNA strands). The shorter these are, the higher chance our cells have of dying. Positive effects have been shown between meditators and longer telomeres. I'm all about ageing gracefully but....
I hope I've convinced you to start meditating if you're not already and to continue if you have. Apps to get started that I regularly recommend to clients are Headspace(men seem to love this one), Calm, and Insight Timer (my favourite because you can do the timer and track your sessions or you can choose from courses or guided meditations). Or find a physical teacher or a meditation or mindfulness group (multiple benefits because you're also connecting with like-minded souls).
Go well. Be well. See you next time.
Love and Blessings, Sonia