Mindfulness is getting a lot of focused attention these days. We’ve heard about mindfulness meditation in popular culture for years, but now it’s finding support in the scientific community as well. Researchers, including Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar and her colleagues, are publishing findings on the neuroscience of mindfulness. Not only is mindfulness associated with reduced stress, but it can also change the brain in some really important ways. With just an eight week program Lazar has seen increases in areas associated with memory, thinking, and emotion regulation; and reductions in areas linked to anxiety, stress, and fear.
Moreover, we know that when people experience or even just recall distressing or traumatic events, certain things happen in our brains. Specifically, highly upsetting events can cause our fear centers to become more active and the thinking part of our brain to go “off line” – that is, to become less active or even shut down. When that happens we tend to react from fear. Mindfulness practice can be an essential part of helping all parts of your brain to stay “on line” so that we can both think and feel, and have the freedom to choose our response.
The main components of mindfulness include focused attention in the present, accepting without judgment that your mind will wander, and bringing your attention back to the present when it does. Although people often feel as though they’re not doing it right because they become distracted, the distraction is actually an important part of the practice. The act of noticing this shift and bringing your attention back in an intentional way is a significant transferable skill. In fact, I believe it might be what is most helpful to you when your thoughts or emotions are hijacked under times of stress.
So, what kinds of activities constitute mindful practice? While a yoga or meditation program are certainly encouraged, you can think about choosing other activities that help you to feel calm, focused and contemplative. Some clients with whom I work knit or make jewelry, and report that engaging in creative activities allow them to achieve the same benefit as others who have an established yoga practice. There is increasing evidence published in professional journals that other forms of creating -- including cooking, puzzles, or making music – have positive effects on our nervous system. Think about what appeals to you, creatively, and try it for at least 30 minutes at least three times per week -- and see what you notice!
I'm not sure how mindfulness could be helpful to my particular concern.
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