Find your mindfulness
I discovered mindfulness 25 years ago when I was struggling with terrible, life sucking anxiety. And it steadied me, over time, and brought me back to clarity and ease.
What is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn, author and founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, says mindfulness is “being present in this moment, on purpose and without judgment”. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But it’s a lot harder than I imagined it would be.
Since then, I have studied and practiced mindfulness, attended a number of silent meditation retreats, received formal training from the Center for Mindfulness Studies and am now certified as a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Facilitator.
Mindfulness is such a significant path for me that I wanted to share some recent research and studies with you because the practice of mindfulness is being extolled as such a powerful pillar of well being these days. I’m not sure about you, but I have a big sceptic who wants to discern what is genuine and what is a passing fad.
But Apple named mental wellness/mindfulness apps the #1 trend in 2018, so it must be true, right?
Well, maybe. Wellness and mindfulness is so popular because we live in such high stress. Stress is defined as feeling overwhelmed or not able to cope. Statistics Canada says that about 25% of adults experience quite a bit or extreme stress most days, with the highest numbers in the 35-49 years of age. And recent research says that it occurs more these days because:
- relationships and community ties are weaker;
- there is too much focus on money, fame and image;
- most of us are digitally wired 24/7; and
- the incredible speed of technological and global change.
Does mindfulness meditation really help with stress?
In 2018, a report was released called “Mental Wellness: Pathways, Evidence and Horizons”, by the Global Wellness Institute’s Mental Wellness Initiative (2018). The editor of the report, Professor Gerry Bodeker (University of Oxford), says that “Meditation is mainstreaming now, and it’s just in time to counteract the epidemic of stress that threatens our society.”
So how does mindfulness meditation do this? When you practice mindfulness daily over time, mindfulness meditation generates slow Theta brain waves at 4-8 cycles/second. Theta waves are our gateway to learning, memory and intuition. They are predominant in daydreaming and are linked to relaxed, open and connected states of mind.
One study showed that an eight-week mindfulness program, with daily practice, shrank the amygdala, the “fight or flight” center of the brain. The amygdala is also associated with fear and stress. Likewise, the prefrontal cortex of the brain was shown to thicken during mindfulness practice—the cortex includes high-level brain processes such as planning, decision-making and awareness.
As Zev Schuman-Olivier, director of the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion at Cambridge Health Alliance says, “What we see with mindfulness meditation is improvement in attention and cognitive control…and in emotional regulation again and again.”
Mindfulness has been a path over many years that has guided me to deeper calmness, increased softness and higher awareness. Along with other pillars of my wellness like yoga, exercise, nutrition and close community ties. What are your pillars of wellness?
By being open to this present moment more often, I have found a decrease in stress in my life. Has my amygdala shrunk and my prefrontal cortex expanded? Maybe. But I am more confident that what I’m teaching students can make a genuine difference in their lives. Practicing mindfulness is one of the many ways to building wellness in a world that seems wrought with stress.
Susan Young, M.Ad.Ed., PCC, RSSW, is a Professional Certified Coach, Mindfulness Facilitator and registered Yoga Teacher in private practice in Kingston. Susan is a skilled and trained facilitator who has practiced mindfulness with a passionate commitment for over 20 years with teachers in Canada, the States and India.