Life in 2019 can be a hectic mess of deadlines, events, school functions, work stress, and other such constant demands on our time. As our phones have made the world in general smaller and more easily accessible it has simultaneously made it that much easier to increase the demands on our time. It is common place now to see people at all aspects of life being on their phone, walking, driving, eating, even going to the bathroom! It is well documented how distracting our cellphones have become, a quick google search with the keywords cellphone distraction can illustrate that pretty easily. Now more than ever it seems we should need more mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the…well, present. Put it another way, it is the ability to be present in the moment. More specifically, mindfulness is the ability to be present and fully engaged in whatever you are doing in the moment, free from distraction or judgement, and being aware of your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them1.
Not sure what that means, here are a couple examples. You ever go driving and get so distracted with your thoughts that you don’t remember a large portion of your trip? Have you ever eaten a meal while on your phone and didn’t realize you finished your plate until your fork just clicked the plate? How about when eating some chips and before you realize it the bag is empty? Has your spouse ever yelled at you because you never responded to your kid’s questions and all you could do was give them a dumbfounded look because you honestly don’t remember your child talking to you?
If any of these sound familiar you may want to find out more information and see how you stack up. In an effort to learn more about where you are at right now there is a self-assessment questionnaire called the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) which can be pretty eye opening for you. It’s a 15 question self-exam that asks you to scale yourself 1 to 6 on how frequently you experience each of the questions you are asked. The higher the score the more mindful you are in general and conversely the lower the score the less present you may be.
Why is Mindfulness Important?
People who have been able to adopt more mindful lives have reported greater degrees of happiness, compassion, patience, and acceptance while also reporting having less stress, frustration, and sadness1. Will it completely get rid of your stress, anxiousness, or other distress? No, but research has indicated that mindful meditation can improve compassion scores2 and reduce aggression levels3 of participants which could position yourself in a better place to respond to stressors with increased positivity, calmness, and more empathy. This doesn’t mean that Mindfulness will become a panacea for whatever ails you but by becoming more aware of what is troubling you, be it thoughts or emotions from internal or external factors, you should have more control of how to handle them in the moment.
How to Become More Mindful.
Unfortunately, just because you want to be more mindful doesn’t necessarily mean you will become more mindful. Just like most things in life practice makes perfect. How do you train to become more mindful? The easiest way is through mindful meditation. When we meditate we can temporarily focus on the present, the moment during our meditation. Focusing on our breathing, on how our body feels, on forgetting any external noises/distractors, and finally working on not allowing our thoughts to wander. Over time though regularly practicing this mindful meditation will help you to develop the ability to be more present throughout each day1.
This type of regularly practiced mindful meditation has also been shown to physical change our brains by:
- Decreasing connections to the medial prefrontal cortex which can help decrease traits like fear, stress, and anxiety1.
- Increase connections to the part of our brain that can help our focus and decision making1.
- Increases grey matter which is the part of your brain responsible for emotional regulation, planning, and problem solving1.
- Increases cortisol thickness which is the part of your brain responsible for learning and thinking1.
- Decreases the amygdala which is the part of your brain responsible for how we feel stress, anxiety, and fear1.
Mindfulness and Headspace
The best way to start practicing mindfulness is through guided mindfulness meditation; where a trusted experienced guide helps you through the basic steps. Most guided mindfulness meditation follow the same steps where the teacher explains how the mind behaves during meditation, leads you through a particular meditation technique, and then suggests how to incorporate the new technique into your everyday life. We at BeneFIT Physical Therapy really enjoyed learning via the headspace app.
Headspace is available both online and through an app for apple iOS and on android devices. It is a great way to get into mindful meditation as they offer a free trial of their basics tract which includes 10 sessions. Throughout these first 10 sessions they periodically provide you with informative helpful videos answering some of the basic questions I assume most first time meditators and users of headspace must have. For us here in the clinic we were utilizing the app and loved a number of things they did.
First, they took their time to introduce the concepts of mindful meditation through introductory still images and those videos we mentioned before. In fact, each video is spread out through the first basics package at just the right interval where we had just began to question some aspects of the meditation that the next video was addressing. These videos really helped us to come back each day and see what else we could learn.
We also loved the fact that through the first basics package you could choose the duration of your meditation which also made us feel less intimidated and honestly allowed us to fit it into our schedules much more easily. During each session the voice of Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of headspace, helps guide you through that day’s meditation, guiding your breathing, your focus, and helping you to become more mindful in the process. By the time we were done with the 10 sessions we had had just enough that we definitely wanted to try more. The good news was we were able to go back to listen through the same basics package without any incurred cost. This time we chose to do the longer duration of each session.
By the time we were done with our second swipe through the basics sessions we then divulged and purchased the app. Inside the paid app itself is a wealth of meditation exercises with focuses on stress and anxiety, falling asleep, sports performance mindset, personal growth, and work and productivity to name a few. Inside each of these tracts there are a number of videos, 1-3 minute guided meditations, as well as additional courses typically consisting of 10 sessions each. Additionally, most courses are broken into 3 levels so no matter how much experience you have in mindfulness or meditation any of these courses can be practical to you.
It’s 2019 and there seemingly has never been another time in history where one person can get pulled into so many different directions, each with their own demands, that all need to be finished immediately. Throughout this hectic lifestyle improving your mindfulness could be the difference between overcoming life’s demands, and excelling at whatever it is you want to accomplish! Give mindful meditation a try and if you’re not sure where to start swing by Headspace and see what you think!
1. Headspace. (2019). What is Mindfulness. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from https://www.headspace.com/mindfulness
2. Lim et al., Mindfulness and Compassion: An Examination of Mechanism and Scalability. PlosOne. February 17, 2015, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0118221
3. DeSteneo et al, Meditation Inhibits Aggressive Responses to Provocation. February 2, 2017. https://mijn.bsl.nl/meditation-inhibits-aggressive-responses-to-provocations/15184918