I feel that this year with the bonus of a late Easter rolling into Anzac Day that there is genuine excitement from everyone, whether it is time to holiday, to be with friends and family, to rest or to simply slow down and take stock, Easter is certainly a welcome break. And as we slow, we allow room for mindfulness and an opportunity to lighten our cognitive load and gain the many health benefits.
First lets start with what mindfulness is not – it is not about religion or spirituality or attached to a belief system. Mindfulness is about acknowledging the moment and positioning yourself thoughtfully within that moment, so you’re open to the opportunities that the moment brings.
Mindfulness works from a premise that our minds are full of ‘mind chatter’, and this makes up a ‘cognitive load’, which is a term to describe all the thinking processes that are going on, using up the brain’s resources that are required for taking in and processing new information, an overflow of new information starts to become overwhelming so much so that we are limited to take on more. Mindfulness allows the brain to come into the present moment, closing the many screens we have open on our desktop brains.
WHY should I practice mindfulness?
Let’s have a look at the science – what have some of the clinical trials told us.
- Reduces self-reported levels of anxiety and depression – an 8-week mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) intervention with 336 Danish women was shown to have clinically meaningful, statistically significant effect on depression and anxiety after 12 months.
- Improvements in chronic insomnia – mindfulness meditation designed for insomnia provided improvement by significantly reducing total wake time and pre-sleep arousal.
- Improvements in quality of life (QOL) and a decrease perceived stress in people with ulcerative colitis. The intervention was an 8-week course consisting of weekly sessions (2 to 2.5 hours each) of teaching and practicing mindfulness based stress reduction.
- Reducing severity of Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms – the mindfulness group included instruction and homework assignments (i.e. daily mindfulness practices and readings from self-help books), sitting and walking meditation, and mindful yoga, compared to a support group only, the IBS mindfulness group had the biggest drop in IBS symptoms.
- Improvements in lower back pain – mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)―resulted in greater improvement in pain and functional limitation compared to usual care.
- Reduced incidence of acute respiratory infections – in this study there were two interventions (one meditation focused, the other exercise focused) that lasted 8 weeks, consisting of 2.5-hour group sessions each week and 45 minutes of daily at-home practice. There were reductions in respiratory infections in the exercise group, but even greater benefits in the meditation group.
HOW should I practice mindfulness?
It is helpful to find a mindfulness / meditation class to join. Benefits of a class include: having a teacher who will guide you, being part of the class allows you to benefit from the collective energy of the group, which can take you deeper into the practice and also, you have the opportunity to share your experiences. A regular home practice is key, the studies above each had a daily home practice which was a key component in achieving the positive effects shown, start with 5 or even 10 minutes a day, using the skills you have learned in class or alternatively you can use one of the many guided meditations available online (see resources below).
WHEN should I practice mindfulness?
For the most benefits a daily meditation practice is important, ‘when’ is best answered with ‘what will suit your lifestyle?’. Choose your time morning, after work, before bed – just think what will suit you best.
WHERE should I practice mindfulness?
It is good to find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed, being consistent with the place and feeling comfortable in it, will help you establish the mindfulness habit. Sit where you feel comfortable (there is no need to sit cross legged on a pillow and chant ‘Om’) a chair, a couch what ever suits will work well.