How mindfulness changes our brains, and therefore our life!
“We can take more responsibility for our own brains by transforming our minds”
Mindfulness can often be placed in the category of the ‘airy fairy hippy talk’. And while this increasingly growing topic can sometimes be discarded, science is increasingly proving that a steady practice of mindfulness induces real beneficial changes in the brain.
Neuroscientists have shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection and complex thinking. Studies have shown that mindfulness can significantly improve conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, chronic depression and substance abuse.
There is now a considerable amount of evidence that we can actually train our mind and harness the power of neuroplasticity to change these qualities in our mind.
So what is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is the change in brain structure and organisation as we learn, experience and adapt. Our brains are constantly being shaped, which is why our behaviours and thoughts today are very different than 10 years ago. So with that being said, this means that people have the power to create change by developing a new mindset overtime. When we have repetitive thoughts or emotions, we reinforce a neural pathway, and with each new thought, we begin to create a new way of being. When these changes are repeated enough times, our brain will work in a different way.
Depression and anxiety are so prevalent in today's society and the misunderstanding of the depth of mindfulness and the power that people have over their own minds, means that so many people are left feeling helpless and as if there is no way out. There are large correlations between our psychological well being and our systemic health, so in order to achieve overall health we need to focus on cultivating a healthy mind, one step at a time.
“We are not thriving, but the invitation is that we really could be”
So where does mindfulness come in and how can we incorporate it into our lives? Let’s take a look at The Four Pillars of a Healthy Mind:
Awareness: This is the capacity to focus our attention and resist distraction. This includes meta-awareness which is knowing what our minds are doing at any particular time. So for example, if you are in a conversation with someone but your mind is drifting and you have very little knowledge of what they are really saying, then it means you have very low meta-awareness in that moment.
Exercise for mindfulness: Explore becoming more present when you are doing mundane tasks which you carry out often, such as driving, cooking, cleaning. Start to notice everything you are doing, how you are feeling, and what you are grateful for in that moment.
Connection: Nurturing harmonious interpersonal relationships which include nourishing qualities such as kindness, love, positive outlooks. Noticing not only your connection to others but also your connection with your Self.
Exercise for mindfulness: Surround yourself with individuals who bring love and kindness into your life. But as well as this, offer yourself love, kindness and self-compassion to deepen the connection with yourself.
Insight: Insight into the narrative that we have about ourselves. When you have a very negative narrative, you may be more likely to suffer from mental health issues and depression. So how do we cultivate a healthy mind? We must change our relationship to this narrative, our awareness and acceptance of it. It is less about changing the actual narrative and more about seeing it for what it really is.
Exercise for mindfulness: Start to notice when you are having a negative thought that is not serving you. Don’t judge this thought, don’t shame yourself for having a negative thought, but simply allow this thought to be. The less resistance we create around negative thoughts, the more easily this thought will subside from our minds.
Purpose: having a sense that our life is heading in a particular direction. Can you take all the activities in your life and link them to your sense of purpose...even the small kitchen tasks? When we talk about purpose, everyone immediately thinks of their ‘life purpose’. But this is not what we mean.
Exercise for mindfulness: Focus on your purpose of that day, or that hour, or the one task at hand. What is the purpose of this task? What is the benefit of doing this for my life and for the lives of those around me, for my local community and humanity as a whole? What is the ripple effect of me doing this?
Mindfulness is a way of thinking. At the most basic level, it’s simply being aware of what’s happening as it’s happening. Being mindful means that you become aware of the workings of your mind, at that moment. When practicing mindfulness, you deliberately direct your awareness back into the now and focus your attention there.
Invitation: So the invitation here is to bring mindfulness into your day in some shape or form that resonates with you. Mindfulness could take place while you drink a coffee in the morning; taking deep breaths as you do so, smelling it, seeing it, feeling the warmth of the cup, noticing how you feel as you drink the coffee, and being grateful for that moment and the new day ahead. Mindfulness could take place as you wash the dishes; taking deep breaths, feeling the warmth of the water, seeing the bubbles wash off the dishes, noticing your surroundings, being grateful for the food you just ate with your family, and being compassionate and thankful towards yourself for doing the dishes for everyone.
As you bring more mindfulness into your life, you will become more present, cultivate more enriching thoughts and over time create new neural pathways in your brain which will lead to an overall increase in your mental well-being.
Watch the video below for an in depth look into the science of mindfulness!