January 23, 2015

What is Mindfulness

You could call it awareness, attention, focus or presence. Mindfulness has roots in Buddhist philosophy and religion which I find very interesting and fascinating. But it also takes on a new, secular definition when viewed from a Western psychology view finder.

Or as the famous Dr. Jon Kabat-zinn defines it, you can think of mindfulness as simply being fully in the moment, paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgemental.

Sound simple? It's not. Being engaged 100% doesn't come easy, especially in our world of distractions. It means actively listening and not zoning out (even a little) when your co-worker tells the same story for the third time, and it means using all your senses in even mundane situations like washing the dishes or waiting at the bus stop.

So what's the point? Well the benefits sound pretty amazing actually:

+ Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practising mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness.

+ Mindfulness is good for our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Several studies in fighting depression and preventing relapse.

+ Mindfulness changes our brains: Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.

+ Mindfulness helps us focus: Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and attention skills.

+ Mindfulness helps people with PTSD: Studies suggest it can reduce the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the aftermath of a traumatic happening.

Here are a few key components of practising mindfulness that Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn and others identify:
  • Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
  • Notice—really notice—what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
  • Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.
  • Tune into your body’s physical sensations, from the water hitting your skin in the shower to the way your body rests in your office chair.
If you're interested in reading more you should definitely check out Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn books written on Mindfulness.

I have decided to jump (with a heavy nervous heart)... but I'm going to be part of a Mindfulness training. It's organised by the psychology department in my hospital... so I will be familiar with the surroundings. But I'm very nervous about the whole thing. However I do think, this type of thing fits me and I could really benefit from it. I will start next week Wednesday.

So let's take a deep breath...

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