5 Things to Know About Mindfulness
1. What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a conscious state of witnessing, observing our own thoughts and body sensations. As witnesses, we are not judging or trying to change what we observe.
2. How is it practiced?
Mindfulness practice has no requirements for location, weather, or time of day. The practice is really all about the “coming back” to our present conscious, to awake our mind from a trance of thoughts. For example, we may be sitting at home, replaying the events that happened that day at work: our conversation with our boss, a presentation we gave, etc’. At that moment, if one can just notice that this is what they are doing, just that realization that “I am thinking about the past” – by itself is the practice of mindfulness.
It is easier to practice when we set a goal to name our experiences – mental of physical, for example “Thinking about the future”, “heaviness around the heart area”, “fantasizing”, etc’.
3. How does the practice of mindfulness help to let go of negative thoughts? Can it help you "banish" negative thoughts all together?
The notion that mindfulness “Banishes” negative thoughts is misleading. Mindfulness is not an active form. It is not out to change anything or make a judgment about what is positive or negative. In fact, mindfulness invites you to look at your experience, and stay with it, even if the experience is dwelling in negative thoughts. Mindfulness opens a therapeutic door and invites us to look at what is it that causes the negative thoughts to appear.
In one of the stories of the Buddha, it is said that the demon god – Mara, frequently visited Buddha. Mara would attack Buddha with doubt, anger, and other “negative” emotions. But instead of trying to push Mara away, Buddha would acknowledge Mara, and invite him to sit and have tea together.
This story really speaks about the practice of acceptance. Our suffering usually lasts because we are busy fighting it away. But when we accept it, we are able to unfold what is really behind the negativity. Once that happens, there is a natural, lasting relief from suffering.
4. What does neuroscience research show about how mindfulness and meditation practice change the brain?
MRI Scans show that after just several weeks of Mindfulness practice, the Amygdala, the area in the brain that is associated with “Fight or Flight” responses and survival instincts, shrinks. Meanwhile, the pre-frontal cortex, the area in the brain that is associated with awareness, concentration and decision-making, becomes thicker.
This study shows that in the short term, we get better in avoiding reactions that are based in fear and stress, and develop a capacity to experience life with a wider lens.
5. Some practical mindfulness exercises to let go of negative or looping thoughts.
Using our breath as an anchor.
The breath is an autonomous mechanism, of which we have little control. Our brain can create faster or slower heartbeat, pending our mental state, but we can never shut it off or turn it on. That is why using our breath, a reliable portal and accessible tool, is a simple way to help us break out of a looping thought and connect us with the present.
Close your eyes or soften your gaze, turn your attention to your breath. Notice the air flows through your nostrils, notice the quality of the air, its temperature, and follow it down to your lungs, noticing the rise of your chest and belly, and the fall as you exhale. Follow your breath going out through the nostrils.
You may mentally whisper to your self as you inhale “Accepting this moment”, and on your exhale “Letting Go”.
Follow this sequence 4-5 times or as much as you allow it. When you are ready to complete, thank your self for the permission to pause and ability to practice.