The Art of Being Aware

 

A mindful mind can be a happy mind. Image by S Migaj from Unsplash

We live in a world where everything is at high speed. We need to juggle work and life and keep up with deadlines while remaining socially, physically, and mentally healthy. At times this can make you feel overwhelmed and, frankly, makes you feel like crying in the corner (spoken from experience).

What can you do to curb the stress and keep yourself calm during these moments?

Well, what if I told you that the remedy to dealing with this is all within you. You have the power to bring relief in these stressful times all through the application and practice of mindfulness.

 

What is mindfulness?
Derived from the Pali word ‘Sati’, mindfulness refers to the process of being in the present moment by becoming aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, feelings and surrounding environment. It involves focusing on your thoughts in the current moment, without pondering on things of the past or things to come. Therefore, your thoughts and emotions are merely accepted but not acted upon. In other words, you observe your mind without judging as if you are a third person watching from the outside, remaining neutral and at peace.

Mindfulness roots in ancient Buddhist teachings and has been practised for thousands of years. However, the practice has taken a more secular route in recent times, as modern science understands the many benefits mindfulness can bring to one’s life, both mentally and physically.

 

But how does this all help me?

The action of mindfulness can considerably lower your body’s stress levels by changing and shifting your brain activity. So naturally, this can influence the way you think and handle stressful situations, and interestingly enough, through the active practice of mindfulness, these changes can be permeant.

The amygdala is the part of your brain responsible for recognising fearful or threatening stimuli, particularly activating your ‘fight or flight’ response during stressful situations. The recognition of such a situation causes the release of stress hormones such as cortisol to prepare your body to either ‘fight’ the threat at hand or to make an escape.

Nowadays, as we constantly face stressful and anxious experiences from the trials of life, our amygdala is continuously activated, thereby continually producing cortisol, putting your body in chronic stress.
A large influx of cortisol is generally not good for your body and hence can lead to numerous other health consequences, such as depression, anxiety, digestive problems and sleep problems.

New studies have shown that those who actively and regularly practice mindfulness have a smaller amygdala associated with decreased stress levels. This allows the individual to feel more serene, considering that less cortisol is circulating around the body.

It is also observed that as the size of the amygdala decreases, your brain’s pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for complex brain activity such as awareness, concentration and decision making,  is seen to grow. This allows for more complex and well thought out decisions and increased attention to tasks at hand.

While further research is required, it is suggested that the decrease in cortisol levels and increase in complex thinking allows your body to respond to stressful situations more calmly and thereby allowing you to efficiently cope during difficult times. In addition, the decrease in cortisol levels would also reduce the number of health consequences experienced by your body due to chronic stress.

 

How can I cultivate mindfulness and apply it to my daily life?

The beauty of mindfulness is that you don’t need anything except your own self (and maybe an electronic device if you’re just starting)

 

Simply be aware. Image by Li Minh Phuong from Unsplash.

For beginners, mindfulness apps such as Headspace or Smiling Mind can be the perfect way to guide you through the art of meditation. In addition, they can give you valuable tips in maintaining mindfulness throughout your day.

You can also simply just be aware of your breathing. Find a comfortable position (preferably in a quiet location), close your eyes and merely watch the inhaling and exhaling of your breathe. Feel your chest rise and fall, and if you have any thoughts that arise during this time, accept their presence but then push them away.

I can assure you that just a few minutes of mindfulness practice will surely bring you wonders and overall make you feel happy and relaxed.

So what’s stopping you? Go forth and be peaceful!

 

 

 

Additional resources

  • What mindfulness meditation does to your brain by Tom Ireland-https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/
  • Headspace:Mini meditation-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEqZthCaMpo