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Mindfulness

9 May 2022

What is Mindfulness?

What exactly is mindfulness? We hear about it everywhere – mindful eating, creating mindful habits, practicing mindfulness, being mindful, living mindfully... but what does it all mean?

The idea of mindfulness is rooted in awareness – the focused moment to moment awareness where we pay attention to our bodily sensations, our surroundings, our thoughts as they pass in and out of our mind. Mindfulness asks that we observe these bodily sensations with a calm and non-judgmental mind, allowing us to acknowledge and let go of these feelings, especially the challenging ones. The focus is very much on the present – observing what is happening here and now, rather than digging into the past or worrying about the future.

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Meditation is a practice, often performed in a still setting that involves observations of your physical senses, most notably your breath. This is an activity.

Mindfulness is a way of relating to whatever is happening: paying attention, noticing, not judging, not thinking. This is a way of being.

Meditation fosters mindfulness.

The origins of Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness was adapted from the early Eastern religious method of mindful meditation – a practice that formed the core of Buddhism.

The most common belief regarding the origin and history of mindfulness is that is started with Buddhism, but even early teachings were present in Hinduism, one of the oldest living religions.

Common techniques

  • Focused attention – This is a simple technique that focuses on breathing. When the mind wanders, we draw our focus back to the breath
  • Body scan – This involves taking a mental scan of the body from head to toe, paying attention to physical sensations (aches, tingles, tension)
  • Noting – This involves noting the thoughts that come into our mind, acknowledging them, and letting them pass
  • Visualization – A mental image is the focus, rather than the breath
  • Loving kindness – Another image-based technique requiring you to conjure an image of a person in your mind. Try to direct positive emotions towards yourself, and then outwardly towards others
  • Skillful compassion – Imagine a person you know or love. Allow the feelings to arise from the heart. This fosters a feeling of happiness
  • Resting awareness – Sit and let thoughts drift in and out of your mind. Be at rest
  • Reflection - ask yourself a question, then answer it focusing on the feelings

There are other forms of mediation, like yoga, sound healing, Zen, mantra, qigong, or transcendental. These are often led by a practitioner or someone with experience able to guide you.

Benefits

There have been plenty of studies done around mindfulness, especially given how much the area of wellbeing and self-care has grown in the past decade. We want to know if it’s worth the bother. The benefits are wide ranging and encompass both mental and physical health, which we know are closely related.

Let’s look at how it affects our brains. MRI scans have shown that regularly practicing mindfulness can influence specific parts of the brain. The amygdala – the region of the brain associated with stress – can shrink. We know this to be true of those who practice meditation regularly too.

Mindfulness can work on your pre-frontal cortex – the area of the brain associated with planning, problem solving and regulating your emotions – by thickening the grey matter and growing this area, we can hope to see better cognitive performance.

Regular practice can lead to:

  • Greater positive emotions
  • Stronger connection to people
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Less reactivity
  • Reduced feelings of physical pain

Check out the links below and try some of the benefits for yourself.

https://www.mindful.org/take-a-mindful-moment-5-simple-practices-for-daily-life/  

https://www.sane.org/information-stories/facts-and-guides/mindfulness  

https://www.healthline.com/health/mind-body/mindfulness-activities  

https://thiswayup.org.au/programs/mindfulness-program/

Wriiten by Leila Rahimtulla. 

Leila works at Lifeline WA as a Wellbeing coordinator and she has been a crisis supporter for 7 years.