May is the month to be mad about mindfulness…and what a great initiative to motivate people to start daily mindfulness practice and also make a significant donation to improve clean water supply to those in need. Mindful in May (1) is a wonderful win-win project founded by Dr Elise Bialylew – medical doctor, psychiatrist, life coach and writer (2).
But what is mindfulness?
Does the image of Buddha sitting cross legged, peaceful under the Bodhi tree pop to mind as you search for the answer? Many of you may feel mindfulness has some connection to Buddhism and meditation. Buddhist meditation is a practice steeped in serious monastic traditions, mindfulness meditation is a deliberate extraction of the Buddha’s methods from these beliefs (3).
Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD, is known world-wide for the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. MBSR took the religious Zen Buddhist retreats (4) Jon was trained within and pushed the focus of the practice to the scientific and psychologic (3). Jon states practicing ‘mindfulness is actually a form of meditation (5.)
Rigorous scientific research, much of which has been based on the MBSR program, tells us practicing mindfulness can change the way our bodies and brains work for the better. Regular practice of mindfulness has the power to: increase activity in the parts of your brain involved with emotional regulation (6), learning, memory, perspective, self-talk and positive affect (7); improve immune responses6; decrease pain (8); and improve sleep (9) (to name just a few). A study looking at mindfulness education programs in schools used QEEG brain scans, like those used at The Perth Brain Centre, to explore the positive effects of mindfulness on the maturing brains of children transitioning into the whirlwind of adolescence (10).
Because of these positive effects there are now a huge number of readily available resources and easily accessible apps for children and adults. It can help to have the guidance of professionals, like the Clinicians at The Perth Brain Centre, to navigate the maze of options and find a program, based on quality science, which is a good fit for you. This Way Up (11) offers a free introductory online mindfulness course for adults, while Smiling Mind (12) is a great option for children, schools and families. Here is a short introduction to mindfulness by Smiling Mind.
There are local and traditional Teachers, perhaps working in your area, should you prefer to learn this way. The best and most succinct definition of modern mindfulness may be that of Perth’s own Eric Harrison, from the Perth Meditation Centre. Eric defines mindfulness as ‘knowing what you are doing, thinking or feeling in the moment, and being able to describe it to yourself’, mindfulness is ‘consciously paying attention to something' (3).
Even more fascinating, is that you can travel tens of thousands of years further back from Buddhism, and find the Aboriginal meditative practice of ‘Dadirri’ (13). Senior Elder, the Northern Territory's first fully-qualified Indigenous teacher, and Order of Australia recipient: Miriam Rose Baumann, defines Dadirri as ‘deep respectful listening and silent awareness’ (14). Miriam goes on to draw the deep connections with spirit, nature, and belonging ‘just continuously making yourself aware of where you've come from, why you are here, where are you going now and where you belong’ (13). This description has an ancient soulful quality that may resonate beautifully with some.
So, perhaps mindfulness is something simply human, an essential ritual our modern life has disconnected us a little from. Our fast paced days, pushing us to focus on the future.
A future that could be evermore richer through really being in the moment now.
Right now. Enjoying just the feeling of being alive.
A shift from the busy thinking mind, into the aware sensing mind.
As quick and simple as three deliberate slow sighs (15).
Placing us relaxed, back into our bodies, our breath.
To shift your nervous system from action to restore.
To bring you back here.
To the moment.
To know and do...only what you are doing...
It is savouring the taste your food.
It is the tingle of the water that showers you when it is too cold to step in.
It is the pleasure of being.
It is being the hug when your loved one embraces you.
It is the truest of feelings.
Mindful is right now.
In this moment.
And very awesome!
You may already feel it a little bit now,
It only gets better with practice.
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Harrison, E (2017). How to Teach Meditation. Perth Meditation Centre, Perth WA.
ED. Williams, M and Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Mindfulness: Diverse Perspectives on its Meaning, Origins, and Applications. Routledge, USA.
Davidson, R; Kabat-Zinn, J. et.al. (2003). Alternations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol 65, p 564-570.
Holzel, B. et.al. (2011) Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging. Vol 191, p 36-43.
Zeidan, F. et.al. (2011). Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation. Journal of Neuroscience. Vol 31, p 5540-5548.
Black, D. et.al. (2015). Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults with Sleep Disturbances, A Randomised Clinical Trial. JAMA Internal Medicine. Vol 175, p. 494-501.
Siripornpanich, V. et.al. (2018). Enhancing Brain Maturation Through a Mindfulness-Based Education in Elementary School Children: a Quantitative EEG Study. Mindfulness Journal, pp 1-8.
Three Sighs http://www.perthmeditationcentre.com.au/mp3s/