Because Happiness Matters
MINDFULNESS and MEDITATION
You've probably heard about mindfulness and/or meditation before. Most people have. But usually, when people think of mindfulness or meditation, they think of bald people in robes, chanting with a incense on the top of some mountain somewhere. A lot of people assume that it's a religious practice and steer clear because of that. But none of that is exactly true. Yes, Buddhist monks meditate. No, they aren't the only ones. No, it doesn't have to be religious, but many religions do it in one form or another.
Simply put, the term "mindfulness" refers to a moment-by-moment, non-judgmental, awareness of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and surrounding environment. That's it. Using mindfulness, we can better see things as they are, without falling victim to fears, anxieties, prejudices, or other types of negative thinking. Mindfulness helps us to connect to our situation as it is, in reality.
Meditation is a process of training the mind to develop meta-cognition (a brain function in the pre-frontal cortex), which gives us better control over our flight-or-fight reaction (a brain function in the limbic system), so that we don't accidentally over-react to things because we can't control ourselves. We can use practicing meditation to develop our brain function so that it inproves our capacity for mindfulness. As well, it can help us set intentions for tasks and maintain focus, improve interactions, get better overall outcomes, and generally feel more like the driver of our own destiny, rather than the passenger on Mr. Toad's wild ride.
Ultimately, it's about learning to strengthen your mind and have better control of how and when you express your thoughts and emotions. At first, it might feel a bit awkward and you will need help and guidance to get you started. Then, with more practice, some determination, and a few spills, you will notice you have become more in control, and can do it on demand.
Mindfulness can have a positive effect on our mental state, our experience of pain and discomfort, our stress levels, and our overall physical wellbeing. We all know what it's like to struggle with juggling work, family, friends, the house, and other commitments. We're expected to constantly multi-task. This creates a lot of stress! Then we start to suffer with back-aches, head-aches, high blood pressure, digestive problems, stomach ulcers, anxiety, depression, or other physical manifestations of stress. The practice of mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve this situation, and to relieve this buildup of negative experience.
Since 2003, there have been several randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses where mindfulness/meditation is studied in its effectiveness on managing different problems in people's lives.
Some found that mindfulness actually reduces distress for people with physical problems (chronic pain, heart disease, psoriasis, etc.). When we’re dealing with physical conditions that are painful, we can help ourselves by becoming good at controlling our reactions and perceptions of pain; something that is a natural side-effect of regular mindfulness practice. In so doing, we can lower blood-pressure and relieve stress-related tension.
A meta-analysis from 2011 found that mindfulness reduces symptoms of distress, reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, and gives patients a really important, practical, easily practiced set of skills to help them cope with the difficulties they are facing in their lives. A similar study in 2013 found the same thing. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in helipng to manage and prevent mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
In addition, there are studies and academic papers that report how mindfulness can aid people who are trying to manage living with some of the major psychiatric disorders, mood disorders, breast cancer complications, and a host of other problems and difficulties. The research and findings are really interesting and inspiring. A meta-analysis from 2013 concludes, "MBT (mindfulness based therapy) is an effective treatment for a variety of psychological problems, and is especially effective for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress."
When we consider all of the research and literature, we can see that there is plenty of evidence showing how mindfulness is useful emotionally, mentally, and physically. If you are interested in understanding general happiness a bit better, you're invited to read the section on Happiness.
I have posted links below to the articles and research associated with the above.
2011 meta-analysis of MBSR and MBCT in improving mental health and reducing recurrence of depressive symptoms
2011 study regarding the effects of MBSR on fibromyalgia pain http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304395910006779
2012 study of the effect of MBSR on breast cancer patients suffering anxiety and depression
2013 Meta-Analysis of Mindfulness Therapy
2014 study of the effects of MBSR on family mental health
2015 MBSR to improve elder care for people in retirement communities
2015 study of MBSR improving education and wellbeing of students
It is usually quite beneficial, in several ways, to attend group sessions to practice and learn mindfulness techniques. However, I also offer personal help with training your brain to be your servant rather than your master. Please visit the Group Programs page, the Bookings page, and/or the contact page to further enquire.
Photo courtesy of http://liveanddare.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Benefits-of-Meditation-Infographic.png
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