Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A Few Points About Mindfulness

Hello it’s Dave here! 

Alison has now had her operation and is back home.  So we are into the recovery period and following her visit to the Dr. yesterday it appears that this is going to take about 3 months.  So now let us move on to the main topic of this week where I share with you  


(Photograph - Wytchwynd Photography)
Have you ever felt there must be more to life?

Well I am the bringer of good news - there is!  The even better news is that it's right here in front of us.  We just need to stop and take notice! 

Learning to be more mindful and aware can do wonders for our well-being in all areas of life – such as our walk to work, the way we eat or even our relationships.  Mindfulness  helps us get in tune with our feelings and it stops us dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.  The result of this is that we get more out of the day-to-day thing we call “Living”.
Mindfulness is the key to taking notice, it is often defined as "the state of being attentive to, and aware of, what is taking place in the present moment". 

Two critical elements of mindfulness are that:
     *  It is intentional (i.e. we are consciously doing it); and
     *  We are accepting, rather than judging, of what we notice.
Mindfulness is "openly experiencing what is there."  It is about having as much awareness as possible of what is around us - what we can see, hear, touch and taste, what is happening inside - our thoughts and feelings.

Crucially it is about observing all of this but not getting caught up in thinking and worrying about what we are observing.  This gentle quiet observation then gives us more control of what we decide to give our attention to.
A growing number of scientific studies are showing the benefits of mindfulness in many aspects of our lives including our physical and mental well-being, our relationships and our performance at school and at work.  Mindfulness appears to have benefits for everyone, from children, through to the elderly.  It has been suggested that once learnt, mindfulness has a 'transmitting' quality. This means that the benefits of using mindful practices increase over time and with more use it can spread to many areas of our daily lives.
Unfortunately in today’s busy and multi tasking world mindfulness is something that few of us do naturally - but it's something everyone can learn and benefit from. It's simple, yet it can feel hard until you learn how. That's why it takes practice.
Mindfulness Costs………………
Think for a moment about the following points:-

Have you ever gone into a different room to get something and forgotten what that was?

Have you been in a conversation with someone but realised that you haven't listened to what they have been saying?

Have you eaten a meal without really tasting it (for example while watching TV or reading)?

How often have you found yourself on “autopilot” whilst making a familiar journey such as going to work, to school or college, and once you have arrived finding that you can’t remember anything about your journey?

All of the above are examples of 'mindlessness'. And that is very, very common!

Normally we are so caught up in our thoughts about what has happened or is about to happen - i.e. the past or the future – that we get a lot less out of the present.  However, the startling thing is that the only thing we can truly be sure of is what is happening in the here and now.
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer warns that “mindlessness may be very costly to us in terms of our health and happiness”. “What's worse”, she says, “is that when we are mindless we are of course unaware that we are being so!” 

But the good news is, although mindlessness is a habit, it is one we can learn to replace.

What is it like?

You can bring mindfulness into your day at any time when you're awake. It is a skill that is often associated with meditation, but it is not just practiced when sitting silently. Learning how to meditate is just one way (albeit a very good one) of learning and practicing mindfulness.

Being more engaged in the present moment can lead us to a richer experience of the things that might otherwise pass us by.   While we are wrapped up in thoughts about the past or relentlessly thinking about what we are doing next, we probably do not notice the leaves dancing on a tree, a bird soaring on the wind, the smell of new blossom, the colour of the sky or the smile on the face of someone passing by.

Of course we need to plan and to recollect and process experience, but if we begin to be more mindful we are likely to be surprised at just how much time we actually spend outside the present moment and how pleasurable and calming being in it can be.

Being mindful is not something mystical - it has been practiced across different cultures for millennia.  Various forms of mindulness can be found in all the major faiths including Christianity, Judaism, Islam as well as Buddhism.  But mindfulness is not, nor does it require, any form of religious faith or belief - it is available to all! 

Perhaps it is better thought of as being something that has been lost in recent generations as the speed of life and amount of information we process has increased.

The Benefits

Becoming more mindful has been widely shown to benefit our physical health and happiness when one combines meditation techniques with other aspects of mindfulness.

Physical Benefits

Mindfulness has been shown to help people manage pain, reduce blood pressure, anxiety and depression.  In some situations it has been shown to benefit the immune system and improve certain skin conditions.  It has even been shown to be related to elderly people living longer.  Indeed, mindfulness is increasingly used in a variety of healthcare settings.

Recent research suggests that mindfulness literally changes our brains - for the better. People who have practiced it regularly, show fewer signs of stress, and demonstrate positive changes in the parts of the brain associated with positive emotion, distinct patterns of activity associated compassion towards others and thickening of the areas of the brain associated with sensory processing.

Managing Stress

Mindfulness appears to be an effective way of managing stress levels. Several studies have shown that various forms of mindfulness practice are associated with reduced levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.  Indeed, some researchers argue that mindfulness practice reverses the effects of chronic stress.  Another study found that experienced meditators had a heightened initial reaction to a stressful stimulus but recovered more quickly. 

Other researchers have demonstrated that individuals with higher levels of mindfulness viewed demanding situations as less stressful and were less likely to avoid dealing with them.
Mindfulness is also associated with the benefits of greater relaxation and rest, but it is not the same as these.  During the practice of mindfulness, the awareness is active and science has shown that there are physiological differences when compared to periods of rest or relaxation.  Interestingly, it also seems to help us be more relaxed yet more alert. Higher levels of mindfulness have also been recently associated with better quality sleep.

Our Performance

Research shows a number of benefits that mindfulness can have on our ability to perform in addition to enabling us to cope better with stress.

Several studies have shown that it can improve:
     *  Memory and cognitive flexibility;
     *  Attention and ability to concentrate;
     *  Learning ability and academic performance in school children; and
     *  Various aspects of creative thinking and creativity.

Other reviews even suggest that mindfulness can have positive benefits for performance in the workplace including decision-making, health and safety and conflict resolution.

Psychology

Some psychologists propose that mindfulness leads to improved well-being and flourishing because it promotes greater regulation of behaviour. It does this because it gives us a fuller awareness of internal and external information, enabling more accurate assessment, more conscious choice and so more flexible, less automatic or impulsive reactions.

Being more mindful of our thoughts and related feelings is also associated with reduced rumination, anxiety and depression, which leads to increased resilience and psychological well-being.

Positive Emotions and Happiness

In addition to its benefits for our health and psychological functioning, mindfulness has been shown, in a number of scientific studies, to directly increase our level of positive emotions.  For example the brains of people who have been practicing mindfulness regularly show patterns of activation in the areas of our brain associated with feeling good (and reduced activation of the areas associated with worrying and stress).

One study showed that a group (of people) that received a happiness enhancement programme, along with meditation instruction, showed increased happiness compared to those who received the happiness programme alone.  Other studies have shown that individual levels of mindfulness are associated with increased emotional, psychological and social well-being and likewise with higher levels of life satisfaction and positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions.

Other psychologists have shown that our ability to enjoy positive experiences in our life is an important component of happiness. While we can savour past experiences and look forward to future ones, enjoying the present is important.  It is a way of being more mindful that we can bring into our day-to-day activities to extract the maximum from each day.  For example, eating a favourite food, walking to school or work, sitting in a garden or park or relaxing in a hot bath.

One factor that is toxic to our levels of happiness is social comparison and wanting what we don't have, such as a better phone, car or house.  A recent study of the financial desires of UK college students and US working adults, indicates that higher mindfulness is related to a smaller difference between what people had and what they wanted.  In turn this was related to greater subjective wellbeing (a measure of how happy people are).

It is important to note here that this did not seem to be due to the level of personal or household income (albeit the group studied could be regarded as middle class).

Furthermore, when one group's mindfulness skills were developed, their financial have-want gap decreased and their subjective well-being increased.

Relationships and Communities

Studies have shown that mindfulness can benefit our relationships with others, and so perhaps can benefit our communities.  For example, training in mindfulness increases empathy and levels of compassion towards others. Many types of meditation or mindfulness practice include a focus on our connections to others and some have been developed for this specifically. Both can positively impact our relationships.

One study of married couples who attended a mindfulness programme that incorporated a loving-kindness meditation and focused the application of mindfulness to relationship issues, demonstrated significantly increased relationship satisfaction, as well as increased optimism, engagement, spirituality and relaxation.  Another study on students found that a different form of meditation had a positive impact on their interpersonal relationships.

It is also suggested that mindfulness in the form of meditation may have benefits for our moral and ethical behaviour and therefore be of benefit to our community and society.

For example, increasing our sensitivity to thoughts and feelings of others and our levels of empathy and compassion, in turn increases our sensitivity to the impact of unethical acts and orientates us to helping others.  An initial study has indicated that meditation may potentially have such benefits.

Environment

Since mindfulness enables us to get more from the present and become more aware of what is around us, could it possibly help us to take care of the natural environment, with knock-on impact for our own and others' happiness?

Like the growing evidence of the benefits of mindfulness for our health and happiness, there is also increasing evidence for the role the natural environment plays in our well-being.  And so it's likely that the two could be related. Indeed a number of 'ecological' models of well-being propose a relationship between mind, body and spiritual well-being and the natural world.  As yet, however, there appears to be few studies relating the two.

But

“we suspect there is a strong connection between being more mindful of our environment, taking care of it, wellbeing and happiness”

Acknowledgement

http://www.actionforhappiness.org/10-keys-to-happier-living/notice-the-world-around/details

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If this post has prompted any questions, then please add them as a comment in the box below or email me:- blueskycompany@europe.com

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And finally – if all goes to plan this blog will be changing to Under Blue Skies on Saturday 1st April.

About Dave I am a coach; speaker; radio presenter and founder of The Blue Sky Company.  I am also a therapist and co-own a virtual light centre called The Crystal Spring.  My therapy work includes music therapy; reiki; crystal therapy

LINKS


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Have a fantastic day, live a life of Passion and Power.

And above all

Don't Predict The Future - CREATE IT!
DAve x

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