Over the past few years the practice of mindfulness has received a lot of attention in main stream culture. Incredibly, last year TIME Magazine even featured mindfulness on its cover page!
Why? Because among other life-enhancing and freedom-building benefits, research shows that when we practice mindfulness we are more likely to respond to the events in our lives rather than react; to choose rather than act out of habit and auto-pilot. Through mindfulness we develop greater capacity in our lives and a connection to a bigger picture of life which may lead to more self-determination. Inversely, when we react from habit and/or auto-pilot we very often limit ourselves and create self-imposed barriers toward positive conscious change.
When neuroscientists study and look through imaging machines at the brains of mindfulness or meditation practitioners they see something very important and different. A part of the brain, which the wisdom tradition have defined as the observer, lights up; and interestingly they don't see this particular part of the brain light up in non-meditators.
Most of us unknowingly live in what researchers call the "default" state of our brain which creates habitual and uninvited commentary and opinions; takes us back and forth between the past and the future; creates a separate and fixed sense of self; and compares us to others and assesses how we fit in-very often doing all of this with a strong lean toward pointing out the negative! Your brain does this all without you even asking it to! To see for yourself simply close your eyes and watch your thoughts for 1 minute.
What scientist are now finding is that mediators not only spend less time in the default is that they spend an empowering amount of time in the "observer" or the "experiencing" state. Instead of imposing all the above mental actions onto every situation, feeling or activity they simply experience it without layering it with an unnecessary habitual, very often negative, story about what is happening.
Good news! Because research also shows our brains can change, a function of the brain called neuroplasticity, through experience and behavior we can rewire the brain! We aren't bound to this mindless chatter and activities! It will take practice and our attention but we can do it.
Try this simple mindfulness mediation for just 5 minutes a day. Research actually shows we can begin to develop this part of the brain in just 8 weeks of daily meditation.
Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath and take a few simple deep breaths in and out through your nose to get centered. Then as you breathe in and out begin silently count each exhale up to 25. Breathe in, breathe out 1, Breathe in, breathe out 2, Breathe in, breathe out 3, and so on. Whenever you notice your mind wandering off into story, thought, commentary, past, future or so on, just gently bring it back to counting but start the counting over. Do this as many times as needed, but do it kindly as you are training your mind to stay present.
Below are 3 CORE changes which researches see in the brains and lives of mindfulness meditators, which when practiced, can be a vital component in building joy, confidence and ultimately taking action to flourish in day to day life!
- Resilience: allows us to bounce back from adversity with more ease and grow from our challenges and set backs; which improves our future actions and choices making them more conscious and mindful.
- Less time in the default state: We are more present in our day to day lives and aren't run by habits and patterns of the brain. We can look at an experience and choose based on what is actually happening and what is best for us and our goals rather than auto-pilot.
- Building Presence: The brain continues to change for our lifetime and now science shows we can change it for the good. It isn't just deteriorating with age. We can rewire our brains to think and respond in ways that serve us and move us toward our dreams, intentions and build happiness and wellbeing!
Have a beautiful day! Be mindful and let me know how your practice goes. I would love to hear from you.
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