Ancient mindfulness and meditation practices have been implemented in many lives, likely dating farther back than 2300 BC. Today, the discipline has evolved into an alternative method of treatment for physical and mental health conditions. While they have similar attributes, mindfulness and meditation are different. Mindfulness can be achieved in formal or informal settings and is profoundly versatile. On the other hand, meditation is a practice that utilizes various methods to quiet the mind or achieve higher levels of consciousness. Both offer immense benefits to practitioners and can be practiced together.
Mindfulness is purposeful attention focused on the present moment, actively redirecting the mind from wandering thoughts back to the present. It aims to reach a higher state of awareness, without judgment, accept your environment, and enable you to put a space between emotions and reactions. The practice allows you to activate regions of the brain that are often running on “auto-pilot.” Mindful Living Group embraces a lifestyle of living each day in the present and incorporates mindful methods into therapy sessions, groups, retreats, and encourages practicing mindfulness with exercise and daily routines.
What Is Mindfulness?
The modern-day concept of mindfulness and meditation is believed to have originated from the Hindu religion. Many spiritual texts, written between 2300-1500 BC, speak of harnessing deep introspection. Often discussed is dhyāna, or contemplation and meditation, a state of mind that promotes higher awareness. Hinduism would later influence the development of Buddhism, founded around 400-500 BC by Siddhārtha Gautama – commonly known as Buddha. Popular practices of mindfulness and meditation used today are heavily rooted in the Japanese school of Zen Buddhism. Although the origins are religious, mindfulness and meditation practices do not require a spiritual focus. Knowledge of origin is helpful for some in deepening their practices.
In the past few decades, and continuing, researchers have conducted several studies that focus on the physical effects mindfulness may have on the brain. The findings demonstrated positive changes in a select group of brain regions or structures with the most notable changes occurring in the hippocampus, temporoparietal junction, and amygdala. The amygdala, the brain’s emotion center, decreased in volume and activity after incorporating mindfulness into individuals’ lives. The reduced activity resulted in better emotional regulation and calmer responses to stressful stimuli. The hippocampus and temporoparietal junction increased activity and volume. As a result, individuals noticed increased compassion and empathy, learning and memory, and an overall sense of well-being.
Mindfulness and meditation allow us to create a safe place in our minds and environment. When we practice, we learn to objectively view hurt from the past and see beyond our fear and anxiety for what’s to come. We train our brains to remain in the here-and-now, where it is safe.
It is essential to acknowledge spiritual bypassing “a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” People often use mindful practices to spiritually bypass issues they are not willing to address. In doing this, distance and disconnection from others and themselves can be created and only grow the longer issues go unresolved. The reality of our existence is that we will experience positive and negative emotions, situations, and life events. Attempting to force positivity onto everything becomes toxic, implementing the idea that a person cannot have a healthy life unless they can overcome all negativity. Carl Jung said it wonderfully, “what is not brought to consciousness, comes to us as fate.”
Fostering a Mindful Lifestyle With Mindful Living Group
In the 1970s, mindfulness and meditation practices were introduced as secular practices that effectively reduced stress and improved mental and physical health. Building from this, many experts integrated mindfulness into therapeutic treatments, creating four main models which are commonly used today – Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
At Mindful Living Group, there are various services provided by expert mindfulness instructors and therapists. When beginning to learn and practice mindfulness, it is invaluable to have an expert help guide you and teach various methods and techniques to use outside of a therapeutic setting. Mindful Living Group has instilled the #100MindfulDays project to encourage individuals to take a moment out of their day and engage in being mindful.
Cultivating mindfulness can be done by anyone. It is important to remember mindfulness is not about quieting your mind or reaching otherworldly mental states. The goal is to remain present in a non-judgemental, accepting way. As you begin to practice, you will likely start to think, “easier said than done,” it takes time. Broadly speaking, you are rewiring your brain to think differently – the more you practice, the stronger these new neuronal networks become. Keeping the mind from wandering and refraining from judgment are obstacles to overcome.
It is human nature for the mind to wander off and get swept away by to-do lists, bills to pay, or any stressor. Recognizing that our focus is not on the present moment is the essence and miraculous aspect of mindfulness. This ability means we can purposefully redirect our thoughts back to the present. Researchers believe this capability is what promotes increased brain health and plasticity.
The concept of removing any judgment and accepting “what is” contains more than is said. Forgoing judgment does not mean withholding opinions or giving up boundaries. Our minds are naturally inclined to judge other people, situations, thoughts, and emotions. We do this out of survival instinct, and it is often beneficial to our safety and overall well being. The flaw in this instinct is that we can let our judgments control and mislead us, especially when it comes to ourselves and the famous inner critic being too harsh.
Abstaining from judgemental thoughts takes practice, and in mindfulness, judgment is replaced with objective observation and the application of wisdom. An active effort is made to differentiate our perceptions from the present moment through a compassionate lens. The results begin to emerge as increased observations, empathy, and the ability to experience the present moment fully. Acknowledging judgments as fleeting thoughts can enable us to control them instead of being controlled.
Benefits of Mindfulness & Meditation
The ability we have over our conscious thoughts is powerful. The more mindfulness is practiced, the more we are able to become aware of our thoughts and emotions. The increase in neuroplasticity carries long-term benefits such as enhanced learning, memory, cognitive ability, and even supports brain trauma recovery.
Mindfulness can have a significant impact on our self-awareness and how we perceive ourselves. Through meditation, self-awareness begins to naturally emerge due to recognizing feelings, thoughts, and body sensations in a compassionate and non-judgemental way. Over time, people who practice might begin to perceive themselves more objectively and have faced negative emotions, unresolved issues, or discovered emotions they were unaware of. An enhanced harmony between the mind and body can develop, allowing for signals from the body to be more readily addressed lovingly.
There are many unconscious behaviors that any individual may do that hurt their relationships. As we become more aware of ourselves and deepen our introspection, we may begin to recognize negative behaviors. Often, these behaviors result from how we feel about ourselves, and we do not notice how they reflect onto those we love. Acknowledging this means we are capable of changing it. Increased connection and satisfaction in relationships are commonly reported among those who actively practice mindfulness and meditation.
The growth of mindfulness in the west expanded from the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. Now considered the godfather of modern mindfulness, Kabat-Zinn separated the religious aspects of mindfulness and developed the popular meditation therapy, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, for treating mental health concerns and physical pain. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl stated, “Between stimulus and response, there’s a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Habitual and conditioned responses to a stimulus often control us without our awareness. By practicing mindfulness, we become aware of this space and take back control over how we react and our resilience to distressing stimuli.
Begin Living A Mindful Life Today
Resistance towards unwanted emotions or avoiding uncomfortable circumstances often creates pain, anger, distress, or several other conflicting emotions and issues. Mindfulness and meditation practices teach us how to accept and flow through the inevitable highs and lows of life.
If you are searching for clarity, peace of mind and body, or a life-long tool that can ease anxiety, symptoms of depression, chronic pain, and open your heart and mind to compassion, gratitude, and love, contact Mindful Living Group here.
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