Recently I’ve talked a lot about mindfulness practise and the benefits I’m seeing as a result of regular practise. Today I want to write about mindfulness in more detail. I’ve seen a reduction in anxiety, overwhelm and autistic meltdowns as a result of my practise.
Mindfulness aims to achieve a relaxed, non judgemental awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations. The pace and stress of modern life leaves us caught up in a stream of thoughts and feelings, trapped in past problems and overwhelmed by future anxieties. Mindfulness enables connection with the present so that you can calmly observe thoughts and feelings. Making them easier to manage.
I really want to encourage others to give it a try. In hopes that it can help more people to achieve the results that I have observed through regular practise.
A history of mindfulness;
Buddhist monks have been practising similar techniques to modern mindfulness practise for over 2,500 years.
In the late 1970’s Jon Kabot Zinn, a professor of medicine, started using mindfulness to treat chronic pain. He called his techniques mindfulness based stress reduction and his course aimed to help patients cope with stress, pain and illness.
Moving forward to 2002, Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford university, and his colleagues, developed mindfulness based cognitive therapy. It aimed to prevent new episodes of depression in the those who were vunerable.
Since then mindfulness has become very popular and programs based on Kabot Zinn’s and similar models have been widely adopted. Mindfulness is used in schools, prisons, hospitals and a variety of other environments. There are also a number of apps and books enabling mindfulness to be practised at home.
The science behind mindfulness;
A team of Harvard affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital presented a study which was the first to document mindfulness produced changes insides the brain’s grey matter.
The study used MRI scans of test subjects who had participated in an eight week mindfulness program. The subjects practised an average of 27 minutes a day, and the results seen where not seen in a control group who did not practise mindfulness.
MRI scans showed that after eight weeks practise the amygdala,the part of the brain responsible for flight or fight and intitiating response to stress, appeared to have shrunk. At the same time the pre frontal cortex, associated with awareness, concentration and decision making, had become thicker.
Another change was the functional connectivity between these regions. The connection between the amygdala had become weaker whilst the pre frontal cortex connection was stronger.
The study also showed that there was a direct correlation between the number of hours practised and the scale of the changes. Those who had practised the most had the largest changes.
How I practise mindfulness;
I’m going to talk about my experiences using headspace for mindfulness. There are other apps, and classes but since this is what I’ve used this is my experience.
I started practising earlier this year and have so far completed 79 sessions using the Headspace app. The first ten days worth of sessions are free, after which I bought an annual subscription which works out at £5.99 a month.
Headspace starts with 30 days worth of sessions which form the initial training in mindfulness. Each session follows the same format. Initially focussing on sounds and sensations around you to ground you, followed by a body scan to observe how you are feeling. After which you focus on your breathing, either counting or simply observing for the rest of the session. Finally returning to observing sensations to ground you back into the room.
Once the initial 30 days are completed you can access the rest of the content, and choose which packs to work on next. I have completed the anxiety and patience packs, which use a really helpful technique called noting, which has really helped me to focus in on the thoughts which enter my head learn to control them rather than having them control me.
I’m currently going deeper in my practise with the headspace pro sessions. These sessions encourage more independent practise, using less vocal cues.
The results I have observed;
In the past I resisted mindfulness despite being aware of it’s potential benefits. I felt unable to sit with my thoughts, and was scared of feeling bored or frustrated.
Eventually I hit a point in my progress with anxiety management where I needed to add something, and couldn’t continue to struggle, thrown about on a rollercoaster of feelings, anxiety and overwhelm. So I decided to give it a go, and I’m so thankful that I did.
I saw results within my first week of practise, these results have become stronger and more reliable the longer I’ve practised. I’ve seen a reduction in anxiety and meltdowns.
On good days I feel more calm, confident and productive. On bad days I’m better able to have perspective about my feelings. I’m more able to take control of those feelings and choose which thoughts are useful and which I want to ignore or deal with later when I feel able.
It’s hard to explain the overall sense of calm I’ve achieved thanks to mindfulness. My family would attest to noticeable results, they have a calmer wife/Mum on a day to day basis.
It can be difficult to commit to mindfulness in amongst the busyness and timetable of daily life. I would recommend finding a time that you can reliably sit to practise and sticking with it. I practise first thing in the morning, and love starting my day this way.
I hope this has been helpful and that more people can experience the benefits I have by taking up mindfulness practise as part of their daily routine.