Benefits of Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness practice has been around for at least 2500 years and has long been taught in many cultures. More recently western culture has begun to explore the practice and through the field of neuroscience, to examine the benefits. Whilst the experience is unique for every individual and we all have different starting points, below we explore some of the benefits that might be realised.
The gift of calm
Practicing mindfulness teaches us to focus on our breathe and through breathing deeply and deliberately we induce a state of inner calm. This sends messages to the brain encouraging it to release chemicals which slow us down and re-balance our nervous system. This provides an antidote to the fight or flight response. Initially we experience this as part of the practice, however, overtime we can learn to work with the technique in our day to day lives.
Working with stress
Through the practice of mindfulness we come to know our own symptoms of stress and to work with them more effectively. However, there are many variables that impact stress, it could be as obvious as a demanding workload or as subtle as a long held belief. The latter can be complex to work with but unacknowledged can be the source of anxiety and over a prolonged period, depression. A professional teacher will be familiar with this and can provide practices to support you to work at your own pace. This may run along side medical interventions.
Understanding the source of moods and working them more effectively can be cultivated through the practice of mindfulness. Scientific research illustrates that mindfulness can change areas of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with mood regulation.
If we are used to working under pressure or an in an environment we don't particularly enjoy we might find that we spend a good proportion of our time in fight or flight mode and this can increase the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. This can be a massive drain on the immune system and our energy. When we practice mindfulness we sooth the fight or flight response and overtime we can learn to induce this state more frequently, so it occurs outside of practice as well.
Quietens the mind
Thoughts continually enter the mind and this is completely natural. However, quite often they take over and the internal chatter can become exhausting. We get swept along with our thoughts drifting from one thought to the next. Through mindfulness we develop an ability to allow our thoughts to come and go without getting involved with each and every thought that arises. By learning to watch our thoughts go by we begin to notice moments of calm or space. Overtime this stillness gives us choice over how we use our mind.
Mind body connection
Our minds are so powerful that we never question our thoughts, treating everything that comes into our mind as fact. When we process a thought it is shaped by a number of variables including past experiences; our belief system; our values and cultural and social influences. When we learn to connect to the sensations that arise in our body, we are connecting with a direct experience before it is processed by the mind. We begin to understand how we are reacting in a given situation before the mind begins to logically process the thought. Through this experience we begin to gain insight into our experience.
Working with anger
The brain works like any other muscle so the more we practice anger, the stronger it gets and the power it has over us, may even increase so that seemingly insignificant events make us angry quite quickly. Mindfulness is not a cure for anger but through cultivating the skill we develop two useful skills. The first is to notice anger as it arises so that we have a choice over whether we react to it, or let us pass it by. The second is the ability to reset and ground ourselves. There is no quick fix as you will learn in my blog on the very same subject.