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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Meditation Can Change Your Life: The Power of Mindfulness

Meditation Can Change Your Life: The Power of Mindfulness

Many of us know that meditation can be beneficial, but did you know that it is actually one of the most convenient ways to make a drastic improvement to your mental health and physical wellness? Practicing mindful meditation is good for more than just peace of mind. It can actually change your life.

Mindful meditation has the potential to radically transform our everyday experiences.

A lot of people would like to make changes to their lives, both big and small. Sometimes, this seems like an impossible feat. With meditation, though, it is very possible.

Imagine making wiser decisions and feeling a deeper sense of peace and happiness. If this were possible, what would it mean for you, your health, your lifestyle, and your relationships?

In this guide you’ll discover a straight forward way to understand mindfulness and meditation, know what practicing these techniques can do for you, and find out who benefits most from adopting mindfulness and meditation practices.

Tap Into the Power of Your Mind to Change Your Life

If you want to understand your mind, sit down and observe it. –Joseph Goldstein

Many times, the idea of mindfulness evokes mystery and thoughts of saffron robed Tibetan monks chanting ‘Om’ — ideas that western culture step lightly around.

Jon Kabat-Zinn was the first to cleanse mindfulness of its Buddhist roots and use it as a tool to help manage stress in a University of Massachusetts Medical School Clinic [1]. Here, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an 8-week program teaching outpatients how to change their relationship with pain after medicine had done all it could, was born.

Because of the program’s success, hospitals around the world have integrated similar programs. Now sanctioned by the medical profession as a tool to ease suffering, we’re experiencing the trickle-down effect as mindfulness enters main stream.

Mindfulness’ Deeper Impact

While mindfulness is best known as a way to manage stress and pain, it has a deeper impact for anyone aiming to rediscover a lost sense of what it means to know one’s self in a fast-moving world.

Jack Kornfield, mindfulness and meditation teacher and author describes it like this:

“Mindfulness is not a philosophy or a religion. It’s not a destination. Rather, it’s a spirit with which you can travel through life.”

Why Is Mindfulness Such A Big Deal?

“Mindfulness is often spoken of as the heart of Buddhist meditation. It’s not about Buddhism, but about paying attention. That’s what all meditation is, no matter what tradition or particular technique is used.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

If mindfulness is about paying attention, what’s the big deal?

The original term ‘mindfulness’ comes from the Pali word ‘sati’, which means memory [2] but is more correctly described as ‘lucid awareness’. It’s an embodied state that doesn’t let day-to-day experiences or moments drift away unnoticed.

When ‘not noticing’ your mind takes on a life of its own, wandering through old memories, recalling old feelings and ruminating endlessly on ‘what I would have said to … if I had the chance again’. We think without thinking, kidding ourselves we’re focused on what we’re doing.

You may be familiar with this state. I certainly am.

While reading a book, I can find myself halfway through a chapter, having to start again because my eyes mechanically ‘read’ the text, while my mind drifted elsewhere. Or petting the cat absentmindedly while planning the next job only to get a solid nudge from a wet nose to pay more attention to her. Or writing this article between cooking, phone calls and checking in on an unwell relative. I laughed at the irony of writing an article on mindfulness while pushing mindlessly ahead with the multiple to-do lists I was juggling.

Overcome Challenges of Modern-Day Living With Mindfulness

The problem of modern-day living touches us all. With deadlines and time as premium resources, it’s easy to think we can do it all, until our body sends ‘slow down‘ signals. This is where mindfulness can really make an impact. If your body is telling you to slow down, then it may be wise to listen to it.

6 Steps to Train Your Brain

Modern-day living has trained our bodies and minds to be separate entities. It has trained us to ignore body-felt sensations and mindlessly dwell somewhere between the past and future, dismissive of the present moment. It’s as if ‘now’ is something to rush through while getting somewhere else. Mindfulness practice aims to help us pay attention, to reunite body and mind through noticing senses, feeling and experiencing moments more fully. It’s about switching off auto-pilot and sitting upright in the driver’s seat again. It’s about quieting the endless chatter that occupies our minds every moment of every day.

With a simple sequence, the mindfulness process flows like this:

  1. When paying attention be consciously aware of what’s happening around you.
  2. Using all your senses, not just your preferred sense (usually sight or hearing), note what each sense is perceiving.
  3. Be enchanted about the experience, not distracted or dismissive.
  4. Refrain from judging the experience as positive, negative or neutral; instead raise your awareness and conscious presence to any feelings arising in the body.
  5. Notice whether you’re wanting to avoid any emotion arising because it hurts, or clinging to the outcome as if there’s a dearth of resources to go round.
  6. Consider your response with wisdom, accepting ‘what is’ with a sense of gratitude.

Holding Back the Endless Torrent of ‘White Noise’ in Your Mind

Most mindfulness practices begin with paying attention to your breathing, without aiming to change it, instead simply noticing it. It’s a gentle beginning, yet challenging to maintain. Noticing your breath as it moves in, through your body and out again is the beginning of sensory awareness. As you begin, you may notice very little from a sensory level; you may even feel nothing. Alternatively, you may experience emotions you’ve not allowed yourself to feel previously.

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Noticing what you’re noticing is the first step.

You may also notice how easily your mind gets distracted by an endless torrent of white noise. Again, it’s about noticing what you’re noticing without judgement. Simply notice the thoughts and let them go.

If thoughts return, notice that you’re noticing them, and let them go again. Be gentle with yourself. Being curious about what you’re noticing while returning to your breath is a strong beginning.

You can be mindful where you are right now. Noticing. Paying attention. Being aware of your body’s senses – tight shoulders, pressure of your sitting bones on a chair, clothing touching skin, any scents or smells, the quality of the light, soft sounds barely audible. This is an informal way of being mindful as you go about your day.

Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, is a formal way of setting aside a specific time to focus. It’s about setting an intention and a focus for a set period of time.

Meditation offers the space to move away from the automaticity of thoughts that are often negative and self-defeating. It’s a space to release the process of worry, doubt, fear and anger.

Meditation offers tools to relax those automatic thoughts. It helps break the illusion of ‘self’ – our ego and sense of identity to which we cling, unaware of a higher level of consciousness available to us if we let go, release attachment and allow a sense of possibility enter.

The meditation practice may involve music, prayerful thought or loving kindness to build greater empathy. You may find a guided meditation useful to support you as your mind strengthens its ability to focus without distracting thoughts entering.

What’s The Evidence Mindfulness Works?

Mindfulness and meditation are forms of mental training that involve exercising the mind to hold a space, a thought or an idea spatially. When practiced regularly over time, researchers see significant changes to different parts of a person’s brain structure via brain scans (functional magnetic resonance imaging – fMRI scans).

For example, a mindfulness-based training program aimed at reducing stress will include training to assist focus, organization and planning (thickening areas associated with tasks governed by the brain’s prefrontal cortex). Training to help with emotional regulation (strengthening the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system) and memory (thickening the hippocampus) also assist.

Regular mindfulness-based exercise can be as beneficial as stretching physical muscles for greater flexibility, lifting weights to tone arms, and walking briskly to improve heart health.

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The main difference is that you can’t see the benefits of mindfulness (unless you have a pre- and post-mindfulness training fMRI scan), but you can experience the difference.

Who Benefits Most From Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation?

While mindful meditation can enhance most people’s lives, three broad-based groups may gain specific benefits.

1. You’re Experiencing Major Stress and Physical Pain

If you’re looking to change your life because of health problems, then mindfulness and meditation may assist. [3]

Many health-related problems originally stem from stress and anxiety.

Initially showing up as unexplained aches and pain, persistent headaches, muscle tension, decreased interest in sex, stomach upsets, debilitating tiredness or insomnia, many struggle to believe that ‘simple stress ’ can be the culprit. [4]

If stress is left to fester, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes can result.

Chronic stress places your amygdala (the part of your limbic system designed to react to danger) on red alert. Your body is literally fighting a crisis: chronic stress, amplifying physical symptoms until the stress is relieved.

The key here is in changing your relationship with what’s causing the problem. Instead of rejecting the problem or denying its existence, mindfulness and meditation offer ways to ease or minimise the sensations associated with pain and stress.

2. You Crave Greater Personal Freedom, Happiness and Fulfillment

Mindfulness and meditation help us understand what contributes to suffering and contentment. When we see this, we can make wiser choices. And as we make wiser choices we become happier. And as we become happier, we make wiser choices, and so it becomes a spiral achieving greater fulfillment and ease. –Joseph Goldstein

Observing the character of your mind at work helps begin a mindful transformation to live with greater wisdom through making better decisions, which in turn brings greater happiness.

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Each of us have skillful and unskillful thoughts. Meditation helps us see, without the need for someone telling us, the thoughts that are wise and helpful and the thoughts that are not.

Noticing feelings of greed, anger or jealousy – the afflict-ive emotions, helps us see how much better we’d be if we let go of them. If we can recognize mindfully the thought patterns and emotions that allow us to feel happier, like generosity, kindness and compassion, we will experience for ourselves the nature of what we want more of.

Practicing meditation aims to help you create a transformation in your life. Instead of being ‘lost’ in thought and acting-out old patterns of behavior, by observing what’s happening in your mind you can make a conscious choice to skillfully think and wisely act.

3. You Need to Release Anxiety and Unhelpful Emotions

Interrupting thought patterns which induce a range of uncomfortable feelings is a skill mindfulness meditation teaches. Rather than numbing the feelings with food, alcohol, drugs, sex or a range of avoidance strategies, you’ll learn how to change your relationship with emotional pain.

Knowing how to be mindfully aware lets you experience emotions as transitory. Anger fades. Sadness lifts. Love ebbs and flows.

These shifts naturally occur. Knowing this transitory nature exists helps release attachment to a way of being that may seem as if it defines you.

Mindfulness Meditation for True Happiness

Mindfulness and meditation practice are thousands of years old. Originally part of Buddhist culture, these practices are settling well into western culture through programs that have gained positive results from respected practitioners and professionals.

Research will continue measuring results. Brain scans offer physical proof. Yet the only proof that matters is in changes experienced by individuals.

Experiencing a greater sense of peace, feeling happier and freer, being more relaxed or managing pain are positive affects of practicing mindfulness.

The benefits of being mindful and practicing meditation offer ways to become more aware of yourself, others and the natural environment.

It’s a global change on a personal level achieved through the demystifying of a complex language now made readily available. When you manage your emotions and responses, this grass root change reaches beyond personal benefit. You will be affecting others to live and love with purpose and intention.

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Start today practicing mindfulness, and make your world (and the world of others) a happier, more peaceful place

Featured photo credit: Patrick Fore via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Umass Medical School: Jon Kabat-Zinn
[2] Taylor and Francis: What Does Mindfulness Really Mean?
[3] Good Therapy: Mindfulness Based Interventions
[4] Mayo Clinic: Stress Symptoms–Effects on Body and Behavior

More by this author

Barbara Grace

Barbara Grace is the Director of the School of Modern Psychology. She believes in living a purposeful life.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

Stress affects everyone, invariably in different ways. Regardless of how stress shows up in your life, when it does, it takes over, making it difficult to stay in the present moment or show gratitude for what and who we have in our life. In the eye of the stress storm, everything is tossed around into oblivion, and self-care ideas go out the window.

However, this is the moment when self-care is the most important. When you notice that you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or powerful emotions, it’s time to get back to a sense of balance by showing yourself love and compassion.

How Does Stress Show Up?

On a physical scale, stress tends to be behind many of our typical ailments, such as headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, or body aches and pain.[1] When we’re in stressful situations, our body activates our fight-or-flight response through the stress hormone, cortisol.

According to the American Institute of Stress, when the body is in this mode due to stress, “the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.”[2]

While our fight-or-flight response is extremely helpful when we’re in situations that risk our survival, not every situation is that dire. However, the body doesn’t know how to differentiate between such scenarios.

Rather, we become accustomed to seeing every stressful situation as life-threatening, and we become locked into this fight-or-flight response automatically. This causes us to burn out because our body is constantly fighting or fleeing from threats that are not causing us any real harm.

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On a mental and emotional scale, stress affects your thoughts, feelings, and ultimately your behavior. Everything is interconnected. When stress takes a toll on our bodies, this has a domino effect on how we process our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see correlations between depression and anxiety when it comes to dealing with stress.

Self-Care Ideas to Combat Stress

Below are five self-care ideas for combating stress in your life. Consider implementing them into your daily routine for the best results.

1. Start a Brain Dump Writing Exercise

When you’re overwhelmed with thoughts, it can become very difficult to stay present and focused. This could affect you at work, in school, or in your relationships. It’s as if your mind were filled to the brim with thoughts that are constantly competing for your attention. If left unattended, this can affect your performance or your state of being, so it’s important to turn to self-care ideas in these moments.

One exercise to get this under control is called a brain dump, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Start by getting comfortable with a pen and paper or your favorite journal. Without any special formatting or introduction, just start writing any and all thoughts that come up.

Consider your paper a blank canvas onto which you’re going to spill every thought, no matter how small or unimportant. This can look like a laundry list, a jumble of words, or a paragraph.

Don’t focus on how it looks or how well it’s organized. The idea is to give your thoughts an exit. Once they’re on paper, they’re no longer swimming in your head for attention.

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Once you have them written down, leave them as they are. We have a tendency to want to fix our thoughts. Instead, allow them to simply exist as they are—they’re not right or wrong. Consider coming back to this exercise daily or whenever you feel like you have a lot on your mind.

2. Sweat It out

There is nothing more therapeutic than moving the physical body when it feels the weight of stress. Energetically, we carry our day in our body, mostly in our neck, shoulders, and hips. If we’ve had a particularly difficult day, that energy is going to feel tense and unsettling. This is why it’s so important to move and really break a sweat!

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America[3]:

“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

Find what exercise regimen works for you, and commit to it for a few days per week for your mental and physical health. Scientists have also found that even 10-15 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a tremendous effect on your body. Go for a run, take a spin class or a power yoga class, or dance the stress away in Zumba. Whatever gets your heart rate up and breaks a sweat is one of the perfect self-care ideas to keep the stress away.

3. Seek the Care of a Therapist

Sometimes writing out our thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem quite enough. This is common and to be expected. After all, we are complex human beings who want to understand and process our emotions on a deeper level. This is why spending time in a regular therapy session is so beneficial!

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In the presence of a professional, we can open up about what stressful situations we’re going through. We don’t have to keep our emotions bottled up, and we know that our honesty will be protected and safeguarded.

Additionally, when we’re feeling stressed, we often want to simply vent and get things off of our chest. Having someone on the receiving end who will simply listen and hold space is a truly healing gift. We can often leave the session feeling more empowered, seen, and offloaded of the stress we brought in.

Lastly, we may be able to receive guidance from our therapist on a particular situation we’re struggling with. Having someone else’s perspective on something we’re too emotionally close to can be just the right solution and a great addition to our self-care routine.

Here are more self-care ideas from a therapist: Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

4. Interrupt Your Day

When it comes to self-care ideas, this may seem like a derailing technique, but give it a shot! Interrupting your day means introducing something entirely new or random into a routine that is very monotonous or typical.

If your work or school day is the same sequence of events every single day, bringing in an interruption can be quite conducive to your productivity and creativity. This can look like pausing in the middle of the day for a yoga stretch at your desk or in your office. It could be playing your favorite playlist in-between meetings or taking a walk outside for lunch. Not only does this stir up new energy for your day, but it can also help you de-stress

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As I said above, when we’re too close to a situation or conflict, we have a harder time breaking away. We’re so emotionally and mentally invested that we don’t see how that proximity is affecting our health. So, interrupt yourself when you’re feeling stress coming on, and do something fun, random, and refreshing to feel good.

5. Get Some Energy Work Done

Energy work is anything that is being done to improve the circulation and energetic flow of the body. This could be a massage, a Reiki session, chiropractic adjustment, or acupuncture[4].

Moving the body helps move the energy that is blocked or stuck. This is why exercise is so important. However, sometimes we need a session where that work is done for us by a licensed professional.

In such treatments, we have the luxury to relax and receive the benefits of the treatment, making it a beautiful way to squeeze in self-care!

You can find even more stress management techniques in the following video:

Final Thoughts

Stress is, unfortunately, a common part of every life. It affects everyone, but to what extent it affects you is personal. One thing is for sure, and that is that stress has a tremendous effect on our physical, mental, and emotional state.

This is why regular exercise is so important, as well as mental stimulation and emotional release. These self-care ideas won’t necessarily guard you from ever feeling stressed again, but they will certainly help you manage it better and offer amazing health benefits along the way.

More Self-Care Ideas

Featured photo credit: Alisa Anton via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Mayo Clinic: Stress Management
[2] The American Institute of Stress: How the Fight or Flight Response Works
[3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Physical Activity Reduces Stress
[4] Medical Acupuncture: Does Acupuncture Reduce Stress Over Time? A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients

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