Know your own mind

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1. Can you learn mindfulness without meditating?

It is possible to be mindful without meditating. However, mindfulness meditation practice (known as formal practice) can be thought of in the same way as a yoga practice. The more you practise yoga, the more you will notice its effects over time. 

A 2014 study of brain imaging found eight brain regions could be altered in meditators. Self awareness (thoughts and emotions), memory and emotional regulation were all found to have been positively affected by mindfulness meditation. Focused awareness can help with stress in the short term. Meditation is like taking your brain for a workout at the gym. It will help strengthen things from the inside rather than sticking a plaster on the outside. 

2. How does mindfulness actually ‘work’?

The two key aspects of mindfulness based approaches are awareness and acceptance. One of the main causes of mental unrest is the attempt to mentally avoid pain, both physical and emotional. It is this inner struggle of the mind that creates our mental distress and exhaustion.

Mindfulness allows us to turn towards what is happening to us, almost as if we have stepped to one side and are observing everything that’s happening in and around us with an attitude of curiosity. 

Formal practice (meditation) has been shown to trigger the relaxation response. This means your brain calms down because it’s not being constantly flooded with stress hormones. Over time the neural pathways in the brain are changed and you become less reactive and generally feel more able to handle stressful situations.

3. What’s compassion got to do with mindfulness?

Compassion allows us to take care of ourselves and learn ways to soothe and calm our nervous system. 

While mindfulness allows us to be fully present to our experiences, these experiences can be hard to face if they are unpleasant especially if we are used to numbing or ignoring them. Mindfulness allows us to be present to our experiences but compassion provides us with the tools to support ourselves when our experiences are emotionally challenging. 

4. Isn’t it selfish to practise self compassion?

No, far from it. Airline flight attendants instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. You cannot help others if you yourself are helpless (burnt out or overwhelmed). Learning practical skills to soothe and calm our own nervous systems, can make us feel less reactive and generally happier. This has a direct impact on our relationships with others. ▶

6. Will mindfulness make me feel less stressed?

Research has shown that meditation alters the neurological pathways in the brain. The meditation itself may not feel relaxing. Our minds can wander all over the place. What we aim to do is to simply notice our minds have wandered and bring them back to the practice. It is the space in between meditations where people report that they notice they are less reactive and feel better able to cope with difficulties thereby decreasing their levels of stress. 

7. What’s the difference between mindfulness and awareness?

Awareness is where we drop out of autopilot and bring conscious awareness to our experience. Mindfulness involves a lot more introspection, we not only notice our experience but how our minds, bodies and emotions are responding to the experience with a sense of curiosity. Awareness is more sensory based and is a mental concept which allows us to be more present.

Mindfulness allows us to tap into our inner wisdom and learn to trust it. We can then make choices to support rather than sabotage ourselves.

8. Is mindfulness a religion?

No mindfulness isn’t a religion but it does originate from belief systems such as Buddhism and Hinduism. It can also be part of religious and meditative practices.

9. What does mindfulness feel like?

Over time many people practising mindfulness report improvements in mood, stress levels and overall quality of life. Mindfulness can only be experienced by doing it. You can learn about what love and grief mean but you can’t really know what they feel like until you experience them. 

10. How long will it take to feel the effects?

Most people struggle with meditation at the beginning. Restlessness, racing thoughts and body discomfort can make it easy to give up. If you practise daily between 10 and 20 minutes, you should see positive results in a few weeks to a few months.

As you develop your practice you should be able to notice an inner lightness emerge as you meditate. Physically your stress levels should drop and having a stronger parasympathetic nervous system should make you more resilient to illness, help promote healing and help you feel less anxious around life’s challenges ◆

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Source: ADI News

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