Mindfulness is everywhere. Lewis Howes is doing it. Gretchen Rubin isn't. It made Dan Harris 10% Happier and it's part of Tim Ferriss's recommended morning routine. It seems that people either define themselves as mindful meditators like Gabby Bernstein and Oprah, or they love to brag about their inability to sit silently.
No matter which camp you currently reside in, after reading this you'll want to give mindfulness a second chance.
First I want to be clear about what mindfulness is and what it isn't.
Mindfulness isn't the same as meditation. Being mindful involves present moment awareness which can occur while you are meditating but mindfulness can also happen when your are walking, eating, listening or doing other activities that require presence. Meditation is the practice of embracing internal stillness with intentions of reaching ultimate consciousness and concentration. This involves becoming a witness of one's mind and mastery of attention to intention. Techniques may involve use of a mantra (series of words that act as an anchor for the wandering mind), close guidance by a guru (a teacher), compassion, love, patience, and of course, mindfulness.
Mindfulness and meditation are not religion. There is meditation as part of many religious practices. But you don't have to be spiritual or religious to meditate. I think of prayer as talking to God and meditation as listening- but that is only one way to look at it. For many, meditation and prayer are two sides of one coin.
What about the fidgety people who drink wine, see stillness as constraining and are skeptical about anything that could be seen as religion? There is still away to take advantage of the benefits (see below) of meditation if you fall into this category. Spending time in a flow state is one of them.
The Antidote to Stress
Mindful meditation is often seen as a stress management tool. Stress happens when an obstacle comes between us and something we want. This could be a red light as we hurry to a child's dance recital or an interview that may lead to a promotion. The body responds to any type of stress by releasing a flood of chemicals. This is known as the fight/flight response. When in this state
- heart rate increases
- blood pressure increases
- pancreas releases more glucagon and less insulin raising blood sugar
- we sweat more
- adrenals pump out more adrenaline. noradrenaline and cortisol
- we feel a need to go to the bathroom
- our blood platelets clot
- our immunity weakens
- we breath more quickly
Over time, prolonged exposure to the fight/flight response can:
- increase in blood pressure and stress on the heart can lead to coronary heart disease
- increase of stress hormones can really lead to anxiety insomnia or addiction
- increase blood sugar can lead to diabetes or obesity
- decreased circulation to the digestive tract can lead to digestive disturbances
- decreased growth and sex hormones can cause premature aging
- decreased immunity increases your potential for infections
- increase in sticky platelets increases the risk of heart attack and stroke
When you are mindfully meditating your heart rate, your blood pressure, your respiration, your perspiration, your stress hormones, and your platelets stickiness all decrease and your anti-aging hormones increase.
Mindfulness is significantly correlated with positive affect, life satisfaction, and your ability to flourish
Mindfulness buffers depression symptoms
After 8 week of daily 1 hour mindfulness a significant increase in baseline happiness levels that lasted 4 months after the training was recorded
Sense of connection to others increases
Physical health improves
Types of Mindfulness & Meditation
I wrote an article for the Chopra Center decoding 5 top types of meditation. A list of many types follows:
- Primordial Sound Meditation.
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
- Zen. Zen is also referred to as Zazen
- Transcendental Meditation.
- Guided Meditation
- Vipassana Meditation
- Taoist Meditation
- Loving Kindness
- Being in a Flow State
No Down Side
The potential benefits of mindful practice certainly make it worth your effort and time. If you really struggle to sit I suggest the following mindful alternatives:
picking up stones or sea glass or shells at a beach
sending imaginary hugs to everyone you love
square breathing (inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4)
I hope you will give mindfulness or full blown meditation a try. It's one of seven science backed practices I love using to help people to flourish.