Mindfulness appears to be the current burgeoning fad in a world which is always looking for new ways of immediate and eternal happiness! From mindful eating, mindful movement to non evidence based mindful colouring, mindfulness has been turned in to an industry and is being touted as a universal remedy for all the woes associated with our frenetic life styles!
Does it really deliver all that it promises?
What is mindfulness?
Have you noticed how many times you ruminate on what happened in the past and can therefore not be changed? Or visualise and fret over a future that has yet to materialise? Like the endless waves in an ocean, our mind produces innumerable thoughts through the day. The situation is further worsened by information overload that accompanies the current technological advances. Distracted by the thoughts of the times gone or of the events to happen, we are rarely here in the now!
Mindfulness, simply, is cultivating the intent of being in the present, moment by moment, with acceptance and without judgment. Using our ever present breath as an anchor, one learns to observe the subjective experience of one's thoughts and sensations, from moment to moment, without judgment.
Despite the recent boom in the popularity of mindfulness meditation, its principles were first enunciated more than two millennia ago. Though associated with Budhism, it is essentially a secular practice.
Whilst meditation may evoke scenes of chanting on hilltops, through the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme (MBSR), Jon Kabat Zinn and other advocates of the practice have brought mindfulness to the 21st-century masses.
There is now abundant scientific evidence which indicates that incorporating half an hour of daily mindfulness practice has numerous benefits:
- Improving mental and physical well being
- Equipping us with enhanced problem solving skills
- Strengthening the immune system
- Increasing empathy.
MRI studies by Hölzel et al (2011) demonstrate increased gray matter in the areas of the brain associated with regulation of emotion and feelings of empathy, in as little as eight weeks, in participants who followed the MBSR course. Brain images revealed growth in several areas of left brain which matched with behavioural changes.
National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommends Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for those patients with depression who are at a high risk of relapse.
A plethora of scientific publications continue to confirm the rewarding outcomes of mindfulness meditation on the psyche, memory and general well being, including improved intra and interpersonal relationships because of development of enhanced insight and resilience.
Tania Singer, the departmental director of Social Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany has conducted a one year study which demonstrates a positive impact of mindfulness meditation and perspective-taking on compassion.
How can I learn to be Mindful?
It is easy to learn mindfulness as you use your ever present breath is the anchor. However, contrary to the myth promoted by the general media, it works only when you are committed to a daily practice of a minimum of 20-30 minutes. Like any other body muscle, brain too needs regular, disciplined practice to integrate the change that comes with it. Jon Kabat Zinn advises, 'You don't have to like it, you just have to do it.'
With consistent and diligent practice, you learn to respond with deliberation rather than react with your habitual patterns to situations and events, as you learn awareness of your own perceptions.
Yogananda, an old Indian philosopher said, "Every tomorrow is determined by every today." It is now up to you to weigh the evidence and decide whether you have the motivation and the commitment to venture in to this journey of mindfulness to transform your lives by changing your mind!