Through mindfulness we can live with greater contentment and emotional resilience
Here you will find guidance on practices designed to cultivate mindfulness in everyday life. Scroll down to read about the benefits of mindfulness.
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Mindfulness is about being in the present moment
Mindfulness can be defined as the quality or state of being conscious or of having awareness. With mindfulness, acknowledgement and non-judgemental acceptance of one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations is promoted.
There are many and varied mindfulness practices, which generally share in common fostering engagement of the senses and awareness of what is taking place and what is present in the ‘here and now’. One of the ways it is suggested mindfulness can be practiced is by attending to the breath.
Mindfulness is scientifically supported and there is a significant body of research documenting the benefits of regular practice, including:
- Greater feelings of contentment, happiness and relaxation
- Greater emotional resilience and capacity to cope with life’s challenges
- Improved ability to regulate emotions and increased self-control
- Improvement in symptoms of depression
- Decreased anxiety, worry, stress and psychological distress
- Increased attention span and ability to focus
- Improved social and relational skills
- Reduction in aggression and anti-social or problem behaviours
Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.
Bessel van der Kolk
Simply noticing what you feel fosters emotional regulation.
Bessel van der Kolk
Mindfulness can change the structure and function of the brain
According to neuroscientists, mindfulness causes changes in the brain and the body’s production of hormones and other chemicals that impact our mental and physical health. Mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce reactivity and neuronal density in the amygdala, a part of the brain that is responsible for our fear response and increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that helps regulate emotions and subsequently reduce stress.
Many of us have a tendency to live much of our lives in what can be described as a ‘doing mode’. We can spend our days moving from task to task, thought to thought and activity to activity or even trying to do more than one task at time or juggle a number of thoughts at the same time. This is probably particularly relevant in goal driven cultures where there is a tendency to place high value and emphasis on striving to accomplish and achieve. Mindfulness can help us to become aware of how busy or easily distracted our mind or behaviour is and to appreciate the seemingly smallest experiences such as the smell of coffee or the warmth of sunlight.
The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.
One of the key practical lessons of modern neuroscience is that the power to direct our attention has within it the power to shape our brain’s firing patterns, as well as the power to shape the architecture of the brain itself.
Are some people with severe and profound intellectual disabilities more naturally mindfully aware and present? Do they live more easily in the present moment with their attention being on the here and now rather than on the past or future? This is not to suggest that people with severe and profound intellectual disabilities do not remember and are not affected by things that have happened in their past but rather that they have an enhanced capacity to be focussed in the present moment.
The profound learning and benefits we gain from people with PMLD living mindfully and 'in the moment
When conceptual thinking is profoundly impaired, life cannot be lived in dreams, wishes, worries and hopes….it is lived in the present.
In our interactions, care, support and education do we, with good intentions, inadvertently attempt to draw attention and focus away from the present moment by encouraging thoughts and actions about the past or future? An example of this might be in asking questions such as ‘what did you do earlier?’ or ‘what are you going to do later?’ We may also tend to encourage being in the ‘doing mode’ as a consequence of our a desire to engage the person in activities. There is nothing wrong with participating in activities, but research shows that there may be enormous benefits to our emotional wellbeing from creating time and space for ‘being in the being mode’. Therefore spending time with a person, really being with them, sharing what their attention is directed to and noticing what is happening at the present moment may be a valid way practicing mindfulness and of supporting their emotional and mental wellbeing.
Our ability to support mindfulness may be enhanced by cultivating our own mindfulness. This can be done through simple practices which can be carried out during everyday activities and in moments of non-activity, both with the person we are supporting and by ourselves. By staying focused on the present moment ourselves, we can better support the person to stay aware of their present moment.
Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.
Bessel A. van der Kolk
Just watch this moment, without trying to change it at all. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear?