Exploring mindfulness

By Vanessa Belvedere
Receptionist at Life Ready Physio Camberwell

What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and self-aware of our own emotions. When you bring awareness to your experiences through your senses, thoughts or emotions, you are being mindful. Or more simply, it means paying attention to the present moment. Practicing mindfulness daily, even for five minutes, can have many positive health benefits so let’s learn how to do it.

Benefits of mindfulness

  • Decreases stress and anxiety
  • Boosts memory and focus
  • Reduces emotional reactivity
  • Promotes empathy
  • Enhances compassion
  • Improves coping skills
  • Improves quality of life
  • Remodels the physical structure of your brain

How to explore mindfulness
Meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction. As little as 10 minutes is shown to help control stress levels and decrease anxiety. Meditation is a powerful mindful tool as it affects multiple areas of the brain in the following ways:

  • The parietal junction which is associated with empathy and compassion
  • The hippocampus which effects our learning and memory
  • The pons which is where neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) are made
  • The posterior cingulate which is responsible for our minds wandering
  • The amygdala which reduces our stress response by releasing less stress hormones

There are many ways to meditate, both guided and unguided. Headspace makes meditation easy by offering free guided mediations online. Alternately, sit quietly in place you will not be interrupted, close your eyes and concentrate on your breath, counting as your breath in and out or repeat a word or phrase to yourself. When your mind starts to wonder, gently lead it back to your breathing or to the work or phrase. Don’t have 10 minutes or access to a quiet space? Become best friends with breathing.

Breathing helps us shift from a sympathetic state ‘fight, flight or fight’ to a less stressful parasympathetic state ‘rest and digest’. Slow deep regular breathing can connect you with the present. The following technique can be used anywhere, anytime. Yes, even between meetings or during your toilet break!

  • Breathe in slowly and deeply, pushing your stomach out filling your diaphragm with air
  • Hold your breath briefly
  • Exhale slowly thinking “relax”
  • Repeat the entire sequence five to 10 times

Lastly, concentrate on what is happening around you. Ask yourself: Am I hot or cold? What sounds can I hear? What can I smell? Try not being judgemental about what you see around you, avoid labelling things as good or bad and just notice without judging it.

Now that you know what mindfulness is and how to do it, try for yourself and see if it makes a difference to your life.

Be in the now. Be mindful.

References
– Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging191(1), 36-43.