‘Mindfulness’ has become a buzz word and is often connected with self-care advice. But what exactly is mindfulness, how do you do it and why is it healthy?

Anyone anywhere can practise mindfulness as a lifestyle choice – similar to going to gym. We go to gym because we know exercise helps keep the body healthy and well maintained; mindfulness practises does the same for our mind. A pioneer in mindfulness practise, Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement.” Instead of our minds being flooded with thoughts of past experiences and emotions or ideas of future happenings and responsibilities, mindfulness helps to check in with the present, what are you experiencing right now. Sensory awareness, awareness of thoughts and feelings in response to the present experience, without judgement are all results of mindfulness.

Why would being consciously and nonjudgmentally aware of the present moment be helpful? Mindfulness can reduce stress, anxiety, worry, depression and fatigue; it can also improve cognitive functioning, self-esteem and working memory. Mindfulness can grow states of patience, compassion and kindness. This will influence all aspects of life making it a more pleasant experience.

There are many ways to practise mindfulness, you can check in with your senses (what do I see, hear, smell, taste and touch in this moment), you can consciously ask yourself how an experience made you feel and why (remember not to judge your response), you can also meditate. Meditation is a strong mindfulness tool that has the capability of changing the brainwave activity in your brain. Some people may be hesitant to try meditation for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are worried they will not be good at it, or they are worried it goes against their religion, or they think that it is pseudo-science nonsense.

Meditation is tricky and is not something most of us are used to, however, with practise it can become a vitally beneficial part of your day. There are many ways to start meditation if you are not sure how to do it. There are apps or CDs or videos that can take you through the process of a meditation. Following these can help you begin to meditate. Remember that meditation is not about clearing your mind and thinking of nothing, it is about allowing your thoughts to flow through your mind, acknowledging them and not judging them. It helps to bring peace, acceptance and understanding for the self. There is also no judgement, so it you do battle there should be no feelings of disappointment or failure. Meditating in this way has no religious connotations. Therefore people of any religion or culture can participate in meditation for mindfulness.

As to its benefit, there have been studies that show long term meditation increases the neuroplasticity in the brain through adulthood. This means that an aging brain can retain its plasticity and flexibility which will combat the decline of memory, cognitive functioning, mental rigidity, etc. Another benefit of long term meditation has been discovered after examining the brain waves of master meditators. A gamma wave can be observed when a person’s sensory inputs all merge together for example when we solve a problem. This gives us a feeling of positivity, hope, achievement and motivation. These gamma waves only occur when the senses are harmonised. However, measuring the brain waves of master meditators it has been found that there is a constant gamma wave. This suggests that meditation helps our sensory inputs harmonise into a clear stream of awareness that increases our appreciation and productivity.

Life gets very busy and we often forget to care for ourselves. Try find time each day for a sensory check in or meditation. It can only benefit you.

By Amy Pieterse

References:
https://www.sacap.edu.za/blog/psychology/mindfulness/
https://www.mindful.org/meditation-protects-aging-brain/
https://www.mindful.org/the-remarkable-brains-of-high-level-meditators/