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Mindfulness

Mindfulness is bringing your awareness to our present thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment in a non-judgmental way. There are many reasons to incorporate mindfulness exercises and techniques into your daily routine to benefit your health. These days more and more research articles show the benefits of mindfulness, and its effects on our mind and body. In the same way that exercise trains your body, mindfulness trains your mind.

“The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live.” – Bhudda

Some benefits of practicing mindfulness are:

  • Better adaptation to stress
  • Higher brain function (i.e. better concentration, and memory)
  • Strengthened immunity
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Increased awareness
  • Increased attention and focus
  • Decrease in brain fog
  • Lowered anxiety, depression symptoms and worry
  • Enhanced job performance
  • Improved social and relational skills
  • Reduced reactiveness

Fight and Flight response

Mindfulness helps build grey matter

Mindfulness helps build grey matter

In this modern world we activate this response more than we should that leads to being in a chronic state of stress. The fight or flight state is switched on by the Amygdala that is designed to protect us when we are under threat. What is considered as a threat in modern times is very different to primitive threats humans faced in early history. Modern stresses are things like deadlines, working overtime, screen use, financial matters, and eating processed foods or eating too quickly while working at your desk. These are just a few examples of what activates our stress response in our brain and body. The way our body responds to a “threat” is we get a spike in our adrenaline and cortisol that causes our reproductive, immune and digestive systems to be down regulated, our heart rate is increased, our blood circulation moves to our arms and legs to allow us to get away quicker or to fight, we get narrowed focus, tunnel vision, and become un-productive.  The long-term affects of this impacts our neurological processes, and can cause health problems such as a propensity toward physical injury, chronic fatigue, weakened immunity, higher risk of cardiovascular issues, lowered gut health, and decreased longevity.

So how does mindfulness aid this? Well, to switch off the flight and fight response we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which activates our rest and digest response. The Amygdala in the brain is responsible for activating our stress response, this becomes less reactive when we practice mindfulness which allows us to better adapt to stress. In a study that you can read in full here shows that after practicing mindfulness for a period of 8-weeks, the grey matter surrounding the Amygdala had reduced, and the grey matter surrounding the pre-frontal cortex that controls brain function was thicker, which results in greater awareness, concentration and decision making. The connectivity between the Amygdala and other areas of the brain weakened that allows more control when needing to activate our stress response. The other areas of the brain had a stronger connection that aided in better concentration and greater attention.

Autopilot

Did you know we are on auto-pilot 46.9% of the time!?

Did you know we are on auto-pilot 46.9% of the time?

How often do you find yourself driving and when you arrive at your destination you look back and wonder how you got there? This is our mind wandering, and being set to auto-pilot. Research shows that we are in auto-pilot 46.9% of the time, when you put that into perspective that is nearly half of our lives. Our brain has a set of structures called the default network system (DNS). This controls the activity in our brain when we are not focused. Meditation has been found to decrease the activity of the DNS when completing an active task, making our mind less likely to wander. The easiest way to begin is to choose a daily task that you know you often do on auto-pilot. For example, have you ever caught yourself in the shower thinking about what you need to do next, or running a long to-do list in your head? Have you even once stopped to enjoy that present moment, how does it feel, smell, sound? Think about what you notice, the water at your feet, the smell of the body wash, the temperature of the water, the sound of the running water. Not the shower, then how about try when you are brushing your teeth! It is really important for you be more mindful, the more you practice the more you are able to train your mind to catch yourself when it starts to wander off.

Mindfulness Eating

Applied to eating, mindfulness includes noticing the colours, smells, flavours, and textures of your food; chewing slowly and getting rid of distractions like TV or reading. What we find while practicing mindful eating is that our digestive system works better and we are able to get more nutrients from our food. When we are eating too quickly or eating while distracted, it suppresses our digestive response similar to when we activate our stress response (fight and flight). When you do not pay attention during meal time you are more likely to over indulge, this is due to not listening to when your body is indicating it is full. Missing these important signals can burden your digestive tract and your absorption and breakdown process in your gut. This impacts your metabolic rate, nutrient status, weight management among many other flow on effects that can lead to various health problems. To interrupt this pattern of behavior you need to take it step by step. Try having dinner with the TV off or making sure you take your lunch break and eat lunch away from your desk. With these small changes, see what you notice.

Exercises and tools:

There are many benefits of journaling.

There are many benefits of journaling.

Meditation is an important tool to utilize, it could be as small as 3-5 minutes when you wake or before you go to bed. It also helps control your breathing as taking a breath from your diaphragm or breathing from the belly is shown to trigger body relaxation responses, such a reduction in the stress hormone named cortisol. If you start small it will seem more manageable to include in your daily routine. For a guided meditation you can download the Headspace app or Calm on your iPhone or Android. You can also set the app up to send you notifications to remind you to meditate.  You can also use soundcloud and search for mediation recordings, try searching for a body scan.

Journaling can help a great deal. Start with noting down things that you are grateful for or write about an incident that occurred in your day, what emotions were triggered, where did you feel them. It is important to acknowledge how you felt in a non-judgmental way. It is an exercise designed to engage in thoughts and emotions and notice things that you may have not before. If we can acknowledge and let ourselves feel an emotion it allows us to process it and move on rather than simply sweeping it under the rug for it to gradually build up subconsciously.

Another important way to be more mindful is to remove technology where possible. There are many ways technology affects us in a negative way, for example: exposure to blue light and electromagnetic fields (EMF) and mindlessly scrolling are all things that either stimulate our flight or flight response in our brain or simply waste a lot of mental energy. It is as simple as avoiding technology from a certain time each night or a whole day once a week. Try giving a digital detox a go!

We have some amazing books in each of our office, we recommend picking up Mindful 2.0 by Vikki Kelly. If you after your own copy, ask one of our staff, we would be happy to order it for you.