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Last Updated on November 4, 2018

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 June 24, 2019

Why Social Media Might Be Causing Depression

Why Social Media Might Be Causing Depression

A study [1] published in Depression and Anxiety found that social media users are more likely to be depressed. This was just one of the huge number of studies linking social media and depression[2] . But why exactly do platforms like Facebook and Instagram make people so unhappy? Well, we don’t know yet for sure, but there are some explanations.

Social Media Could Lead to Depression

Depression is a serious medical condition that affects how you think, feel, and behave. Social media may lead to depression in predisposed individuals or make existing symptoms of depression[3] worse explains[4] the study above’s senior author Dr. Brian Primack. So, the problem may not be in social media per se, but how we use it.

Signs You’re Suffering From “Social Media Depression”

If you feel like social media is having a negative impact on your mood, then you may be suffering from “social media depression.” Look for symptoms like:

• low self-esteem,

• negative self-talk,

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• a low mood,

• irritability,

• a lack of interest in activities once enjoyed,

• and social withdrawal.

If you’ve had these symptoms for more than two weeks and if this is how you feel most of the time, then you are likely depressed. Although “social media depression “is not a term recognized in the medical setting, social media depression seems to be a real phenomenon affecting around 50% of social media users. As explained in a review study[5] published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, if a person has a certain predisposition to depression and other mental disorders, social media use may only worsen their mental health.

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Social Media Could Crush Self-Esteem

We know that social media and depression are in some way linked, but why is this so? Well, according to Igor Pantic, MD, Ph.D.[6], social media use skews your perception about other people’s lives and traits. To explain this further, most people like to portray an idealized image of their lives, personal traits, and appearance on sites like Facebook and Instagram. If you confuse this idealized image with reality, you may be under the false impression that everyone is better than you which can crush your self-esteem and lead to depression. This is especially true for teens and young adults who are more likely to compare themselves to others. If you already suffer from low self-esteem, the illusion that everyone has it better off than you will just make you feel worse.

Causing Social Isolation and Other Negative Emotions

Another commonly cited reason for the negative impact of social media on mental health is its link with social isolation. Depressed people are more likely to isolate themselves socially and chose only to interact indirectly through social media platforms. But communication online tends to be superficial and is lacking when compared to real-life interaction explains Panic. What this means is not that social media leads to isolation but the other way around, possibly explaining why we find so many depressed persons on these sites.

Lastly, social media use may generate negative emotions in you like envy, jealousy, dislike, loneliness, and many others and this may worsen your depressive symptoms.

Why We Need to Take This Seriously

Both depression and social media use are on the rise according to epidemiological studies. Since each one has an impact on the other, we have to start thinking of healthier ways to use social media. Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable to the negative impact of social media on mental health.

Advice on Social Media Use

Although these findings did not provide any cause-effect explanation regarding Facebook and depression[7], they still do prove that social media use may not be a good way to handle depression. For this reason, the leading authors of these studies gave some suggestions as to how clinicians and people can make use of such findings.

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One suggestion is that clinicians should ask patients about their social media habits. Then they can advise them on how to change their outlook on social media use or even suggest limiting their time spent on social media.

Some social media users may also exhibit addictive behavior; they may spend too much time due to compulsive urges. Any compulsive behavior is bound to lead to feelings of guilt which can worsen depressive symptoms.

Having Unhealthy Relationship with Social Media

If you feel like your relationship with social media is unhealthy, then consider the advice on healthy social media use provided by psychology experts from Links Psychology[8]:

Avoid negative social comparison – always keep in mind that how people portray themselves and their lives on social media is not a realistic picture, but rather an idealized one. Also, avoid comparing yourself to others because this behavior can lead to negative self-talk.

Remember that social media is not a replacement for real life – Social media is great for staying in touch and having fun, but it should never replace real-world interactions.

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Avoid releasing personal information – For your safety and privacy, make sure to be careful with what you post online.

Report users who bully and harass you – It’s easy to be a bully in the anonymous and distant world of social media. Don’t take such offense personally and report those who abuse social media to harass others.

The bits of advice listed above can help you establish a healthy relationship with social media. Always keep these things in mind to avoid losing an objective perspective of what social media is and how it is different from real life. If you are currently suffering from depression, talk to your doctor about what is bothering you so that you can get the treatment you need to get better. Tell your doctor about your social media use and see if they could give you some advice on this topic.

Reference

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