When was the last time you were fully present in a moment— just observing it all without judgment, with upmost attention? It almost seems ridiculous to have to talk about this, but if you really stop to think about it, how much of the time are you truly present—paying attention— instead of in your head consumed by thoughts, judgments and responsibilities? You may even be wondering, “Why does this even matter?” Well, if you care about your brain and your psychological well-being it does.
Living in the moment and having non-judgmental awareness about what you are doing and experiencing, while purposefully paying attention to the environment around you is known as mindfulness.
Originally, mindfulness was thought of as a Buddhist practice. I’m not really sure why paying attention to the present moment is labeled as a Buddhist way of being when it’s not really a spiritual or religious thing at all.
Did you know that mindfulness improves:
- brain anatomy and function
- psychological well-being
- and decrease the risk of diseases associated with old age?
It’s a beautiful thing that we are living to near a century, however, with age begets the onset of new diseases. Alzheimer for example is the loss of gray brain matter and results in memory loss. Even if you don’t get Alzheimer’s, it’s a known fact that memory deteriorates with age because our gray matter does. Other diseases associated with gray matter atrophy include depression, chronic pain syndromes, and daily mistakes.
You can think of gray brain matter as a muscle, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Mindfulness is how we exercise this muscle. Many activities are associated with the practice if being mindful, such as yoga and meditation for example. Sometimes mindfulness and meditation are interchanged. Meditation is a mindful practice.
Scientists are beginning to uncover the benefits of mindfulness:
In 2012 Duke University studied two groups— one group with a regular yoga (3-4 times per week) and a daily meditation practice for several years versus another group completely naïve to yoga and meditation.
- Brain imaging showed significant increase in gray matter widely throughout the brain in the yoga group compared to controls.
- The yoga group had improved performance related to memory and attention, as well as enhanced muscle coordination compared to the other group.
Just this February a study was published revealing an increase in the size of the mid-brain areas after 8 weeks of a regular mindful practice. These areas regulate mood and attention, as well as brain chemicals like serotonin. Questionnaires administered to the participants showed a significant improvement in psychological well-being too.
These results translate into our daily lives because these studies are essentially saying that mindfulness allows us to be happier, improves our memory, increases productivity, and more! You will be a star at work and in any activities you participate in simply by being more mindful. Your relationships will improve, and you’ll be preventing old-timer diseases too!
There are so many ways to be mindful. Notice the difference in your life when you choose to be mindful.
When you walk down the street, just walk. Purposefully get out of your head and notice the ground you walk on. The temperature of the air as it brushes your skin. The smells. The light. Is there wind? How bright is it? What noises do you hear? Who is around? Paying attention and just observing in a nonjudgmental way is being mindful. It’s not about what’s good versus bad— it’s about what is.
As you eat an apple, or anything for that matter, notice the taste and the texture. Is it juicy? Chew with intention and thoroughly. Be aware you are swallowing. Forget the television and other distractions. When we are mindful, we eat less because our brains register what we are doing and send signals to tell say, “Please stop. I’m full. Thank you.”
Being mindful in every aspect of our lives makes living more enjoyable. It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind involuntarily invading our consciousness. The flood of thoughts about what we have to do next, the checklists, the responsibilities, rehashing the interactions with people in our lives, etc. is energetically and emotionally taxing. Before we know it, time slips by and we miss out on a big chunk of life. When choosing to be mindful, we can observe and become aware, allowing us to decide what we want our brains to focus on. And without judgment, we can easily shift our attention to the present moment and just be.