The Benefits of Mindfulness
What’s all the fuss about this ‘Mindfulness’
For the longest while, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss about this ‘mindfulness’ was. Was it the latest buzzword that everyone needed to get on board with? How could it be useful in losing weight, or reducing stress and anxiety, or any of the multitude of things that others had claimed?
My first experience of mindfulness was an interesting one. I was doing my Cert IV in Hypnotherapy at the time. The lecturer asked us to close our eyes and to simply observe the sounds that we could hear. I can recall her saying, ‘allowing the sounds to come to you… holding no judgment… just noticing them like you were hearing them for the first time ever.’ Even in that moment, something began to shift. It was like trying on a new hat; I had to consider what it was like to be curious again and to hear something new for the first time. I would later go on to learn the value of curiosity in learning, exploring and playing.
She then asked for us to focus solely on the breath. Perhaps we could notice the feeling of the air coming in and going down our throats. Perhaps we could notice the way our chest would rise and fall. Perhaps we could notice the feeling as the air left the body. All we had to do was simply focus on the breath. You know what? It was harder than what I expected.
I was sitting there and I kept having these voices inside my head wanting to distract me. Some random thoughts would pop up. What would I have for dinner tonight? How long is this going to go for? Then I would consider if I was doing it right? The whole time, I could begin to feel a sensation not too similar to trance beginning to come on; that sense of floating, of slowing down, or being here and not here at the same time.
What’s your distraction?
At the end of the session, which lasted for around 20 minutes, I felt refreshed but I was still unsure if this was something for me or not. It wasn’t until a year or so later during my training in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that Dr Russ Harris made a comment that made it all suddenly make sense for me. He mentioned that, really, it was all about us choosing what we are going to be distracted by; is it the thoughts or is it the breath. We can often get trapped in our own thoughts and, left unchallenged, they can just be accepted as fact when often they’re not. Mindfulness allows me the opportunity to stop that inner critic, to observe if what I am being told is correct or not, and to make choices and decisions that are more aligned with my own personal values.
The benefits of mindful eating
Mindfulness has helped me at times to become truly aware of my emotions and my body. Mindless eating is often a cause for weight issues. When you sit down and mindfully enjoy a meal, you’re capable of enjoying each mouthful; the flavours, the textures, the taste. You slow down, you appreciate and respect the meal, and you savor each bite. In the process, you become more aware of what the body is feeling, scanning the body to notice when you’re feeling full. The stomach will automatically send a signal to tell the brain when you are no longer hungry yet we are so used to mindlessly eating in front of the television that we become completely unaware of that signal being received. Mindfulness can reconnect that signal back up.
Research on mindfulness
Research from Harvard University has shown that Mindfulness can literally change the brain, growing back grey matter. The article goes on to state; “These findings are just the beginning of the story. Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self. While more research is needed to document these changes over time and to understand underlying mechanisms, the converging evidence is compelling.”
For a wonderful introduction to Mindfulness, it may worth watching this lecture from Jon Kabat-Zinn that he gave to Google.