Mindfulness means to be present in each moment. To fully experience what is happening around us and within us so we can observe, connect and appreciate more.
Today the pace of modern life means that we spend most of our time in 'autopilot' or 'doing' mode in order to manage the constant juggle of tasks, decisions and stream of information. Our minds are 'full' which can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed, anxious and mental exhaustion.
Mindfulness teaches us tools that we can use to gently observe our thoughts without judgement. Connecting them to our emotions and where we feel them physically. This helps us explore how they may be driving our behaviour, catching unhelpful thinking traps and habits so we can respond positively. With deeper genuine connections we can build positive relationships with ourselves, each other and the world around us.
Every one of us is unique with our own voice that has the power to make a difference to the world around us. At times it can be hard to hear that quiet voice within, our true self because we challenge it with negative thoughts and beliefs fused together. Mindfulness helps us to tune in and listen enabling us to connect with our true voice and feel confident to sing.
There is a wealth of scientific evidence to support the positive impact of mindfulness on our mental health and it is recognised by the NHS* and NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) to treat depression, stress and anxiety.
Learn to observe, connect and ground yourself to build understanding, resilience and growth.
I thought it might be helpful to share some of the science behind the benefits of Mindfulness, if like me, understanding how something works inspires you to give it a go..... There is still so much unknown about the brain but with latest scanning technology scientists are finding more and more evidence to support the positive affects of Mindfulness on the brain.
Neuroscientists have found that regular practice of Mindfulness has the capacity to change the architecture of our brain growing tissue in the areas responsible for executive functioning (pre-frontal cortex), focus & attention (anterior cingulate cortex), self awareness and empathy (insula), learning & memory (hippocampus) as well as thickening the corpus callosum that connects the right and left cerebral hemispheres . The capacity for our brain to grow and evolve in response to life experiences is called Neuroplasticity.
Our brain is wired for survival with a negativity bias. The amygdala located in the limbic region of the brain acts as our brain's security guard scanning for signs of threat triggering our stress 'flight or fight' response. This was extremely effective in the days of sabre tooth tigers but today our amygdala reacts in the same way to perhaps an email, a difficult meeting at work or test at school, relationship issues, the news, health, finances, or a negative thought, meaning our stress response is triggered more often and sustained for longer periods reducing our resilience and increasing our susceptibility to a perceived threat. Practicing mindfulness teaches us to create space to observe our thoughts, being curious without judgement to what may be driving them, catching and challenging negative ones to be able to break unhelpful habits. New neural pathways are formed and strengthened in the pre-frontal cortex region which is responsible for planning, decision making, creativity, problem solving, exerting greater control over our amygdala reducing it in size, enabling greater emotional regulation which lowers our stress response to a perceived threat. In addition the hippocampus, which supports memory and learning and helps to regulate the amygdala, increases in size helping us remember that 'this is okay, I don't need to panic' when the amygdala signals alarm. Our capacity to pay attention and focus means we have greater control over our wandering mind which is in constant flow as well as stay on task towards a goal. In our modern world fueled by instant gratification and distractions hijacking our thoughts and interest this skill cannot be overvalued.
Breathing is not something we usually pay attention to or need to as it is an automatic function controlled within our brainstem, but we have the power to control our breathing and use it to shift our physical and mental state. When we learn to be aware to our breath during mindfulness practice we learn not only to use it as an anchor to the present moment helping shift our attention away from swirling mental activity possibly ruminating about the past or projecting into the future but also to flick the switch from our 'flight or fight' stress response (sympathetic nervous system) to the 'rest and digest' response (parasympathetic nervous system) to calm us down. The sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system are two branches of the autonomic nervous system which amongst other functions controls our heart rate, breathing and blood pressure (the third branch is the enteric nervous system). The sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system can't both be active at the same time. Taking deep diaphragmatic breaths switches on our parasympathetic nervous system which slows our heart rate, lowers our blood pressure reversing the physical effects of cortisol and adrenaline released as part of the stress response, helping us to feel calm and able to think more clearly, supporting emotional regulation.
There is of course so much more but I hope you will have found this useful to understand just a little about the 'how' and 'why' our brain and body work. It has helped me to learn to separate 'me' from my thoughts, emotions and physical reactions and to remember I am not my thoughts, they are just mental events which I can explore, gently, without judgment to support making positive choices. I hope it may encourage you to give mindfulness a try and experience through your own practice what it can do for you. Like all learning the more we practice the more we embed the skills to make a difference changing our neural pathways to support our emotional wellbeing and happiness.
If you would like to find out more about the latest scientific research in mindfulness you may like to explore the University of Oxford Mindfulness Research Centre www.psych.ox.ac.uk or NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence - www.evidence.nhs.uk
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