It seems like “mindfulness” is all the rage these days. You might (justifiably) be wondering: what is mindfulness exactly? Is it a fad? Why should I care about it, and what can it do for me?
These are great questions, and they deserve answers.
What is Mindfulness?
One of the early pioneers of mindfulness in the western world is Jon Kabat-Zinn. He defines it as:
Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the moment, and without judgment.
Sounds so simple, but it is really very profound. To understand why, we need to dig a little deeper on what this means.
- Mindfulness means purposeful awareness. Paying deliberate attention to whatever it is you choose to focus your awareness on.
- Mindfulness means focusing on this moment. Awareness of this present moment: right here, right now. When you find your mind wandering to what happened in the past, or thinking about the future, you are able to gently bring your attention back to this precise place in time.
- Mindfulness means letting go of judgment. Being kind to yourself. Not labeling what happens when your mind wanders, or judging it. Your brain is meant to think. It’s natural to have thoughts bubble up, so there’s no reason to beat yourself up when you get distracted. You are able to easily bring your awareness back to what you want to focus on.
When you live mindfully, you are able to fully experience each moment of your life. You learn not to ruminate about the past, because you cannot change it. You avoid excessive worrying about the future, which causes anxiety about things that may never happen. You are able to live your life in the present moment, fully appreciating all of the good things about it. Your loved ones. Your work. Your health. Each day you’re alive on this beautiful planet.
Mindfulness sounds great! But if you are a super busy, overworked, stressed, or deeply worried about what’s happening in the world – how do you get there from here? Do you need to spend hours sitting on the floor in an uncomfortable position, burning incense or wearing beads?
The answer is no. You don’t.
I completed hundreds of hours of study to become a certified Mindfulness at Work Trainer. I read tons of books, articles and scientific research papers: none of them were about wearing Lululemon clothes (it’s a thing), how to sit on cushions – or practicing a particular religion. My studies involved reading scientific research on the brain and how it works; the nervous system; and the serious negative effects of stress on modern human beings. I also learned about the power we each have inside of us, to make life so much better for ourselves, and each other. It was truly a revelation to me, and completely changed my life.
Mindfulness Practices: Easier Than You Think
As it turns out, there are specific mindfulness practices you can use to dramatically improve the way you live, work, and experience the world and your place in it. You can learn how to focus on the things you want in life, and avoid being distracted and derailed from your goals. These practices are surprisingly easy to learn, and even more amazing, they don’t take up a lot of time. Anyone can learn to do these practices. They can easily fit into your daily routine. Best of all – science proves they work. It’s just as simple as that.
The fact that you may be hearing a lot about mindfulness these days does not mean it is a fad. In truth, it’s just the opposite. Decades of research by neuroscientists around the world who study the brain prove that mindfulness practices can dramatically improve your life. The increasing public awareness of how this can help us is based on fact, not fads. It is worthy of your time.
It is indeed possible to retrain our brains, with consistent practice. The scientific term for this is “neuroplasticity”: it refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. It is astonishing to know that your brain has the ability to re-wire itself, and create new neural pathways! Psychologist Donald Hebb coined the phrase:
Neurons that fire together, wire together.
You have the power to change the way you live your life, by becoming aware of how you use your mind and what you focus your attention on. There is an older phrase you may have heard, which captures this idea equally well: what you seek, you will find. If your brain seeks the negative, it will find it. If you seek the positive, then that’s what you’ll find.
Doing regular mindfulness practices is just about the most powerful tool there is to help you rewire your brain and improve your wellbeing.
These practices make you better able to focus your attention, and be less distracted. This enhances your ability to cope with stress, and be more resilient during difficult times. It gets even better. You don’t just feel this way while you are doing the practices. Science shows that the benefits last, even after the practice is over. More good news – it’s never too late to start.
The Science Behind Mindfulness
Your brain evolved to watch out for threats – and it certainly seems like there are plenty of them out there these days. A specific part of your brain causes you to react when threatened: it is called the “amygdala”. When you experience a threat – real or even just imagined – your amygdala is responsible for reacting, which is important to your survival. But it can also cause you to over-react: called the “amygdala hijack”. This is results from the way your nervous system functions. The stress that comes with real or perceived threats activates your sympathetic nervous system: also called the “flight or fight” response. Brain scans of stressed out people show they have thicker amygdalas – you can actually see it.
Mindfulness practices have the exact opposite effect. They activate the parasympathetic response: known as the “relaxation response”. Brain scans of people who consistently do mindfulness practices show that the amygdala loses density – it actually physically shrinks in size. Even better, mindfulness practices thicken a different part of your brain: known as the “CEO” of the brain, located in the left pre-frontal cortex. This is the rational part of your brain that allows you to make good decisions, even under pressure. This area of the brain is thicker in scans of regular mindfulness practitioners.
The effects are real, dramatic, and life changing.
Practicing mindfulness dramatically improves your life and work
Mindfulness isn’t a fad: it makes you more effective at dealing with life. Living mindfully allows you to be less reactive, and more responsive; more observant, and less judgmental; better able to cope with life, and less rigid in the way you think. You will be happier, healthier – and more optimistic about the world. You will also be more satisfied and successful in your life and work.
That’s the whole idea behind iPracticeWell. We provide professionals like you with education and mindfulness trainings that help you live and practice well. Contact us for a free consultation, and see what living mindfully can do for you.
You might also like these articles
Sorry, we couldn't find any posts. Please try a different search.
Get the latest in wellness info, direct to your inbox.
Sign up for our Working Well newsletter.