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About Mindfulness

ABOUT MINDFULNESS

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. (mindful.org)

Mindfulness encourages you to observe your thoughts without judgment, pay closer attention to your surroundings and listen to the messages your body is sending. (www.atheistliving.com)

“Mindfulness isn’t just about knowing that you’re hearing something, seeing something, or even observing that you’re having a particular feeling. It’s about doing so in a certain way – with balance and equanimity, and without judgment. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.” (Sharon Salzberg)

Mindfulness refers to a psychological process characterized by attention to and awareness of one’s current experience and also entails a non-judgmental approach towards these feelings. (Psychologytoday.com)

“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.”  (Thich Nhat Hanh)

“The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Mindfulness is, then, living in the present, rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future, as the vast majority of individuals do. ( www.atheist.com BACK TO TOP

Who uses mindfulness?

Mindfulness is for anyone and everyone. It is about quality of life—your life. Mindfulness is being used in all levels of schools to help both teachers and students. From improve their attention, less stressful interactions with each other, and increased self-compassion and understanding of others.

The legal profession is using mindfulness to develop ability to focus both in and out of court. Elsewhere, all levels of the workforce and learning mindfulness techniques to reduce stress, improve focus and productivity. There are added benefits of improved communication and increased creativity.

Mindfulness is used in the treatment of depression and anxiety. Patients with conditions affected by stress benefit from mindfulness practice. BACK TO TOP

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Mindfulness connects you with the present so that you discover your habitual thought patterns and reactive behaviours. Often thoughts and behaviours you are unaware of.

Mindfulness has been proven to:

  • REDUCE:

    • depression

    • stress

    • anxiety

  • INCREASE

    • resilience

    • feeling of well-being

    • self-acceptance

    • self-compassion

    • sleeping patterns

  • IMPROVE

    • relationships with family and strangers.

    • immune system.

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Are there any risks?

As you become aware of your thoughts and feelings you may well experience some anxious moments. Continuing to pay attention to your breathing, or using alternative methods can see those feelings diminish and then pass. (SEE ALTERNATIVES TO FOLLOWING BREATH)

If you do not find this to be the case, and find that during your mindfulness practice you are experiencing feelings that you feel are bigger than you’re able to manage you should be kind to yourself and cease the effort. Mindfulness is not a substitute for professional help and you should consult with your physician if you feel that makes sense. Health professionals may use mindfulness techniques to complement therapy or treatment given its benefits to reducing anxiety, stress etc. BACK TO TOP

What is a mindfulness practice?

At its core, a mindfulness practice has two elements: awareness and acceptance.

To develop awareness you pause to pay attention ad focus on what is happening within, at that particular moment.

Acceptance involves observing and accepting things as they are, without judgement. You learn that acceptance is not the same thing as agreement with what is happening, but rather acknowledging the fact that it is the current state of things. BACK TO TOP

How does it work?

From a…physical point of view

From a…science of the brain point of view

From a…psychological point of view

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mindfulness practice… causes you to relax and feel calmer because your beathing slows down and your blood pressure drops. It strengthens the immune system and physiological responses to stress and negative emotions.

mindfulness practice… allows you to be less stressed out. and less anxious You have a better perspective on thoughts or worries because the Amygdala portion of your brain which controls your fight or flight response becomes less reactive .Changes to the body’s production of hormones and other chemicals that impact our physical health as well as changes to the brain as a result of mindfulness have been documented

(Note: Requires regular practice)

mindfulness practice…increased your level of self-acceptance which alows you to experience increased well-being and happiness.

 What are the misconceptions about mindfulness?

Most common?

  • mindfulness is all about having a blank or empty mind’.

Instead, mindfulness practice:

  • trains “our mind’s innate capacity to be with whatever arises in our lives, including those things that create stress.

  • we now begin to learn to see the ways we can respond to moments of our life, rather than react

  • we begin to learn to see the ways we actually make things worse by imagining horrors of the future, or hang onto the replays of the past. (from instituteformindfulleadership.org)

  • teaches us that “this kind of "acceptance" doesn't mean that we are passive, don't protect ourselves, or give in to abuse. It simply means that you fully acknowledge the current moment (feelings, thoughts, sensations, and perceptions). If you can do this, you will be more effective at taking action in the next moment (if action is called for) than if you deny your inner experience or outer situation.    Even if it's a situation that requires high energy engagement such as sports, or acting decisively and/or quickly, you will be more effective if there is full acknowledgment and awareness of your actual situation.  Also, because you are not fighting with your own inner or outer experience, your actions will be more appropriate to the situation at hand, and will be smoother and more effective. (from palousemindfulness.com)

Other misconceptions include:

  • I will always be happy.

    • We draw on our innate abilities that we’ve honed through mindfulness practice so that when we run into difficult times- grief, pain, change etc to help us to respond in a considered manner rather than through automatic behaviour.

  • I won’t get stressed.

    • Studies have shown mindfulness can reduce stress. Trials and tribulations continue to arise but regular mindfulness practice allows for more equanimity.

  • accepting things as they are will make me passive

    • To the contrary. Acceptance does not equate to approval. In a very simple example, you can accept that the airline has lost your luggage but that doesn’t mean you approve of it. Were you to instead resist—’how can you have lost my luggage? this shouldn’t happen to me… etc etc’ you immediately set the stressors in your body into overdrive—not healthy for you—and your mind is clouded by your anger and so you don’t think as clearly. If you instead accept the loss of luggage as a fact, rather than as a personal insult, you can then work out the details with the airline personnel in a neutral, even pleasant manner. This leaves your the physical side of your body a whole lot healthier, you’ve set a good example for anyone watching you (especially your children) you’ve not added more stress to the airline worker who had nothing to do with your luggage being lost and you get a few extra bursts of warm and fuzzies for having been a decent human being. Win-win-win. Nothing passive here.

  • mindfulness is a ‘technique’

    • Mindfulness is not a “technique” or about learning “stress management.” It’s a way of living that is in every one of us. We all have the capacity to practice mindfulness in our daily lives. Practicing formal and/or informal mindfulness as often as we can helps us to learn the skills we need for our overall health and wellbeing when the stakes are low. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/your_mindfulness_practice_can_be_formal_or_informal

  • Mindfulness is a religion (see Is mindfulness in conflict with any religion?) BACK TO TOP

What does the science say?

“Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.” https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/

There is an extensive body of research that consistently associates mindfulness with certain changes in the structure and function of the brain, as well as changes in behavior.This suggests that mindfulness can have a positive effect on our thoughts and feelings, including reducing fear and pain.

How does mindfulness change the brain?

There is now a significant body of research documenting changes in the brain associated with the practice of mindfulness.

A 2014 review of brain imaging studies found eight brain regions consistently altered in meditators, including areas important for:

  • Self-awareness of thoughts and emotions (frontopolar cortex/BA 10)

  • Body awareness (sensory cortices and insula)

  • Memory (hippocampus)

  • Self and emotion regulation (anterior and mid cingulate; orbitofrontal cortex)

  • Communication between parts of the brain (superior longitudinal fasciculus; corpus callosum).

For more on this topic read the source document here: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/mindfulness/how-does-mindfulness-work) BACK TO TOP


Is mindfulness associated with any religion?

Newton didn’t invent gravity, nor did the Buddha invent mindfulness.— Barry Boyce (www.mindful.org)

Buddhism as a tradition has spent a great deal of time on the universal practices of attention and lovingkindness. Many Buddhist practitioners have intensively studied their own minds and passed on what they have learned as roadmaps. Mindfulness does not belong to Buddhism, but the modern teachings of mindfulness have been influenced by the practitioners and scholars of the lineage.

Consider a useful comparison: coffee originated in Ethiopia and was drunk there for millennia before it made its way to Egypt and the Middle East, and now it fills the cups of drinkers around the world. The effect that coffee has on people is universal and is beloved equally by many Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The effects of mindfulness practices are considerably more mellow than coffee, but they are just as universal. Of course, just as drinking coffee will not make you Ethiopian, practicing mindfulness will not make you Buddhist....From The Way of Mindful Education by Daniel Rechtschaffen. BACK TO TOP

Is mindfulness in conflict with any religion?

“Throughout history religious and cultural traditions around the world have used meditation to build on the capacities of authenticity, kindness, and insight. Many religious traditions use the deities of their particular religion, using visualizations, mantras, and prayer to cultivate these characteristics....The beauty of mindfulness for our modern use is that all we need is our breath, our bodies, our minds, and our hearts.

Every cultural and religious tradition has its own mindfulness practices. If you come from a tradition to which you feel connected, I recommend exploring the practices within it. The prayers, meditations, and devotional practices you can find in any tradition can be used to cultivate compassion, attention, and a sense of connection to all things. Mindfulness practices can also focus and support the practices of whichever tradition you are already part of. Steady focus and an open heart can support the prayers of a Christian, the poses of a yogi, and the intellectual questioning of an atheist. Every cultural and religious tradition has its own mindfulness practices.” —Daniel Rechtschaffen BACK TO TOP

Can I practice if I’m an atheist?

Mindfulness can be practiced without a belief in god. BACK TO TOP