In her book ‘The Sleep Revolution’ Adriana Huffington says:
“Our ability to pause and connect with ourselves is a skill that can be learned and cultivated and being comfortable with that stillness helps us become more comfortable with sleep.”
There is an ever-growing school of thought that it is our loss of connection with ourselves and our inability to relax and switch off and be quiet and internal that is causing many of our current health problems, especially the psychological ones, including some forms of depression, anxiety and why sleep deprivation is fast becoming an epidemic.
The act of meditation, contemplation and inner reflection are not new ideas for embracing a better state of wellbeing. But what is all this mindfulness stuff people keep talking about? Thought loosely to be a simple form of meditation, it is the ‘science’ of meditation practice without the philosophy behind it- namely, a method of mental training.
It is thought to take around 8 weeks of ‘training’ to change the pathways in your brain to accommodate a new habit, for it to become your natural response. This rewiring is called NEUROPLASTICITY.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. There are ‘formal’ practices like breathing techniques, body scanning and sitting practice and ‘informal’ practices like noticing how you brush your teeth or wash the dishes!
In essence, mindfulness allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they spiral, hence why scientific studies have shown that it positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability so that when they arise, they dissolve away again more easily.
Mindfulness isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person, it is about training yourself to pause, make more conscious decisions about how you respond both inwardly and outwardly, acknowledge what is going on for you and get a healthier sense of perspective.
Kabat-Zinn, generally considered the godfather of modern mindfulness, began initially by focussing on its effects with chronic pain sufferers and he said it helped them “to be in a different relationship with their pain”.
Most mindfulness techniques incorporate breath work. Your breathing really helps anchor your attention and if you have read my previous post on breathing, it has a direct impact on your physiological state.
When the fight or flight response is triggered, our brain waves move into the higher Beta waves, releasing stress hormones. Regular practise of mindful relaxation techniques will induce the production of alpha and theta brain waves, which will then reduce our heart rate and blood pressure, relax muscles, and increase the quantity of oxygen flow to the brain, creating a greater sense of wellbeing.
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