“Mindfulness is the energy that makes us fully present, fully alive in the here and the now.”― Thich Nhat Hanh
The Buddhists have known for thousands of years what science is beginning to understand – that mindfulness and gratitude have a profound impact on many aspects of life. Research has shown how mindfulness affects the nervous system and how being mindful can reduce stress and anxiety. The benefits of mindfulness extend beyond the psychological – with positive manifestations repeatedly being observed in treating heart disease, reducing chronic pain, relieving gastrointestinal disorders, lowering blood pressure and improving sleep.
How Mindfulness Works
In the brain, a region of grey matter called the amygdala (ah-mig-dah-la) is known for its role in stress and is also responsible for the sympathetic nervous system response known as fight or flight. A Harvard study in 2011 showed that after just eight weeks of mindfulness practice, the amygdala actually reduces in size, which signifies a decrease in stress and the reduction in defensive triggering of the sympathetic nervous system. The same study showed an increase in the thickness of the hippocampus (hippo–camp-us) region of the brain that is responsible for memory, learning and regulating emotions.
Can Mindfulness Help with Anxiety?
Mindfulness is becoming more important than ever, as according to Beyond Blue one in seven Australians are currently experiencing some type of anxiety and 14.4% of Australians aged 16 to 85 have experienced an anxiety disorder in the last year. Mindfulness-based therapy has been trialled in various studies with encouraging result, showing that incorporating mindfulness into treatment programs can be effective for alleviating anxiety and associated mood symptoms.
How to be more Mindful? Mindfulness comes in many different forms and can be included in your day in a multitude of simple ways.
- Gratitude list – The more grateful we are, the luckier we feel. Taking time when you wake up each morning or before you go to sleep at night to write a gratitude list can help boost feelings of satisfaction, achievement and contentment. You might like to keep a gratitude journal on your bedside table or have a running list in the notes section of your phone. This mindful exercise helps to ground you into the present moment, reminding of the joys you have in your life right now. It can be anything, from a yummy meal that you had, your Fressko order arriving or a phone call with a loved one. Anything that comes to mind that makes you feel happy and grateful.
- Breath awareness – The Yoga Sutras tell us that to calm the mind, first we need to calm the breath. Breath awareness can be done anytime of the day, as often and as long as you like. You can close your eyes or keep them open and take your attention to the breath, following the length of each inhale and exhale. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that “our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. No matter what is going on inside us – thoughts, emotions, or perceptions – our breathing is always with us, like a faithful friend. Whenever we are carried away by our thinking, when we are overwhelmed by strong emotions, or when our minds are restless and dispersed, we can return to our breathing.”
- Mindful eating & drinking - So much of what we do every day is on autopilot - often we are so focused on screens that we barely acknowledge what we are putting into our bodies! Slowing down and eating and drinking mindfully not only helps to reduce stress and feelings of overwhelm, but it also helps your digestive system recognise and prepare for your meal. and it also increases pleasure in our lives. Next time you are having something to eat or drink, take the time to bring your attention to what you are consuming. Savour the taste and texture of a strawberry, notice the pops of sweetness in your mouth, marvel at the bright colours you can see. The next time you are cradling a warm cup of tea in your Fressko cup, enjoy the warmth in your hands and notice how the steam carries the aroma through the air, feel the liquid move into your body like a nourishing hug with every sip. Bringing mindfulness to your diet will help promote better digestion, make you feel more satiated, and can help influence healthier choices over time.
- Affirmations – Yoga teacher Duncan Parviainen uses an easy mindful affirmation to help maintain awareness in the present moment with two simple questions. Where are we? The answer is ‘Here’. What time is it? The answer is ‘Now’. Our mind is usually thinking ahead to the future, making plans and worrying about things that haven’t happened yet or else we are reminiscing about our past actions or memories that have already occurred, and that we cannot change. A popular definition of mindfulness is ‘present moment self-awareness; accepting an open, non-judgmental and curious focus on one's emotional, cognitive and sensory experience in the present moment.’ This here and now affirmation can be used as a mindful technique throughout your day, to remind yourself that your life is happening right here, right now. Where are we? Here. What time is it? Now.
- Sensory experience – Natural aromas have been used for mental, spiritual and physical healing since the beginning of recorded history. You can use essential oils, candles or incense to create a sense of ritual around your mindfulness practice that, when chosen correctly can stimulate activities of different brain waves and lead you to feel more relaxed and focused. Studies have shown that fragrances directly and indirectly affect the psychological and physiological conditions of humans, so by infusing your space with something that makes you feel grounded and peaceful, you can inadvertently shift into a more mindful state of mind and improve overall wellness.