We’ve embraced stress, there’s no doubt about it and the festive season is a particularly stressful time because of the expectations placed on individuals. But, in the same way, we’re good at finding solutions. One of the ways we deal with stress is by using an ancient method known as mindfulness.
The idea of focussing the mind is older than recorded history. Athletes do it all the time, as do stage performers. They enter a zone before their performance, a state of mind where they are completely focussed on the task at hand.
Mindfulness can be defined as any activity that focuses your attention on the present moment. A mindful state is one where you are not mind-travelling, not regretting the past or worried about the future but are in-tune with what is happening right now.
But, why bother being mindful in the first place? Here are some benefits for you to consider:
Preventing disease – An erratic and shallow breathing pattern means that parts of your body are not receiving the correct amounts of oxygenated blood. If this continues for a long period of time, it can stress out organs leading to disease. Simply focusing on the moment will bring your attention to your breath, allowing you to correct it.
Increased concentration – Concentration is the strength that is derived from being mindful. When you are focused on a task, the two hemispheres of the brain begin to communicate via a connecting tissue called the corpus callosum. The size of this tissue will depend on how focused you are and how far your brain has developed. A large corpus callosum results in faster communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. This can be developed in early childhood through mind-focusing or mindful activities such as learning a musical instrument.
Developing self-control – In some people, it is far easier to become irritable or angry compared to being calm. The reason is a lack of emotional discipline. Mindfulness can train the mind to become calm in difficult situations so that judgement is no longer clouded by uncontrollable emotions. In turn, we can overcome impatience, feelings of hatred and vulnerability.
Sleeping better – Your body requires rest both physically and mentally. It’s a fact. Good quality sleep every night helps your body to recharge. In a state of sleep, the brain stops maintaining consciousness, reduces some of its sensitivity to sensory input, relaxes skeletal muscles, and completes many administrative functions such as the consolidation and storage of memory, dreaming, and development of nervous tissue. Though naps and meditation are great ways of adding a silver lining to your day, there’s nothing like seven to eight hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep. In babies, the length can be as long as 16 hours per day due to the increased amount of melatonin hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It’s this hormone which has a sedative effect on the brain, helping to induce sleep. However, the pineal gland produces less melatonin as people age, resulting in difficulty sleeping during adulthood. Mindfulness is great way to reactivate the pineal gland, often referred to as the third eye.
Believing in yourself – We are often fazed by external factors. Some people even go through an entire lifetime being controlled by those around them. There is a way out. First, correct your breathing so that your mind and body can respond peacefully. Next, accept that you are in control of your life. No one can make you happy besides yourself. No one can make decisions for you except you, and the only thing holding you back is your own fear. To believe in yourself and love yourself like this is your last day on earth comes from one thing, being mindful. Only when you are focused in the moment will you be able to forgive the past, allow the future to unravel and more importantly, forgive yourself.
Healthy body, healthy mind – Neuroscientists have been able to prove that any task which focuses the mind can increase the area of the brain linked to regulating emotion, thus improving attention, job performance, productivity and satisfaction. Such mindful tasks also increase the blood flow, reduces blood pressure, and protects people at risk of developing hypertension. It’s also known to reduce the risk and severity of cardiovascular disease, and the risk of dying from it.
Being mindful, now!
There’s something about the human race. We can contemplate, question our existence, revel in exploration and realise our dreams. But, we can also tire ourselves out.
Leave your troubles at the door, surrender and take a deep, fulfilling breath. Follow these steps to set yourself in the room in which you sit:
- Look out of a window. Look in the distance. What’s the farthest thing you can see?
- Focus on that for a few seconds and describe it fully in your head.
- Now bring your line of vision a little closer; what do you see now?
- Continue doing this until you see the window itself, and eventually yourself.
You can do the same thing by closing your eyes and focusing on all the sounds you hear, edging slowly to the beat of your heart. It’s a quick and simple way to regain focus, something you can do anywhere.
Extract from Day of Mindfulness: Living in the Moment | Out Now in Paperback and eBook