Discover more from Super Sunday
Part Three: The How Of/To Mindfulness
Unpacking the mechanics and practices of being mindful
Hello Friends! 👋
As always, a warm welcome to the new subscribers who joined us the past week and a big thank you to everyone helping spread the word! 😊🙏
🪄 HOW DOES MINDFULNESS WORK?
We talked in Part Two about the role of our Pre Frontal Cortex in executive functioning; from an evolutionary perspective, it is the part of the neocortex that is the latest and newest addition to our brain, followed by the mammalian brain, which follows the reptilian brain (more details on this in another discussion.)
I also touched upon the concept of neuroplasticity, which had the biggest impact on neuroscience in the past two decades; it states that our brains do indeed continue to grow and that they do not get stagnant after a certain age.
When we practice the same thing frequently, we fire the same set of neural networks in the brain, which strengthens them and changes the structure of our brain.
Research on how mindfulness meditation works tells us that mindfulness primarily relates to specific brain circuits responsible for attention, body awareness, and emotional regulation.1
As we engage these circuits consistently, we create stronger wiring between them.
Research also shows that mindfulness meditation impacts our well-being through our biology; it increases the levels of neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation and well-being (serotonin), reduces our stress levels (lower cortisol, increased parasympathetic activity) , and enable better management of fear and anxiety (reduced amygdala activity).
Separately, it enhances the immune system (e.g. reducing oxidative stress markers, C-reactive protein while increasing telomerase activity.)
More details are below for those who like to nerd out on research.2
💪 MEDITATION IS THE MINDFULNESS GYM
Meditation is the active participation in mindfulness practice to train and enhance our ability to bring mindfulness beyond the practice session.
It can be practiced via sitting or active settings, each providing supportive training for cultivating mindfulness.
Like working out is a practice for building cardiovascular and muscular strength, meditation can be considered the gym of the mind. 🏋️♀️
Through training, and thanks to neuroplasticity, neural networks associated with all the benefits talked earlier are activated and strengthened.
This strong wiring allows us to access these networks more readily when needed.
We cultivate the skill to pay attention to what we want, whenever we want, and for how long we want.
Such a skill is of significant value us so we can actively pursue what we want and create the life we desire.
You can introduce meditation to your daily routine by blocking time in the morning or in the evening (these are called the bookends of your day, where you have the highest levels of control over your time).
Simply paying attention to an object of focus (breath, body sensation, or sound) and noticing when your mind wanders away, which it will inevitably and naturally do, and gently bringing it back to the object of focus.
Do this over and over again, moment-to-moment, starting with few minutes a day.
You can start with short periods and slowly increase the duration as you practice more.
🍀MINDFULNESS AS A WAY OF LIFE
We practice mindfulness to train ourselves to “pay attention, on purpose, moment-to-moment, and non-judgmentally”
This has profound implications for our health, relationships, and well-being.
As we train during our meditation, we can expand the practice to our everyday activities beyond the meditation cushion; walking from and to the car to practice mindful walking, washing dishes to practice mindful breathing, and communicating with others to practice mindful listening.
I shared in this post the research from Harvard that stated we spend 47% of our time in mind wandering. They also measured the emotional state of the subjects and found out a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Therefore, you may wonder what is the value of focusing on my breath while doing the dishes - the answer is clear, when we let our mind wander - as it naturally does - it has the tendency for negative bias - as it naturally does - due to our survival instinct. We assume the worst to prep and ensure we survive just in case it happens. While this mechanism is helpful in times of need, rumination about it is seldom needed and can be a source of much anxiety and unhappiness in our lives. A state of chronic distaste and lack of motivation. When we practice mindfulness we cultivate awareness instead of a wandering mind.
Life is full of opportunities to practice and strengthen our ability to be more present in whatever we are doing.
As we become present and aware of our automatic habitual reactions, we are empowered to choose a response that will positively impact us and those around us.
We learn to manage emotions such as boredom, impatience, anger, craving, envy, unhealthy obsession or attachment, and other limiting reactions.
Instead, and through our full presence, we can bring innate characteristics discussed in previous parts, like kindness, patience, discipline, understanding, courage, and many others.
Have fun with the practice, and see opportunities to practice in the most basic situations, like elevators or traffic lights - where our habitual way is to automatically reach out for the phone and dump information, that is mostly useless, on our brain while it may already be overloaded.
That habitual way of being doesn’t seem like a good recipe for enhancing well-being and recovery, which are important if we want to show up at our best to ourselves, our relationships, and our work/passion, moment-to-moment.
One idea that occurred to me and I feel very compelled to leave you with:
While our potential is infinite, a moment is small enough to allow us to be at our infinite potential and act with the attitudes we want to live by, learn, or teach.
In each moment, we can be as healthy, supportive, loving, kind, strong, and courageous as we can in that moment.
Each moment provides us with an opportunity to be our best and live anew. 😊
Let me know, in the comments or by replying to this email, if there are specific topic of interest or questions you’d like me to dive into in future posts.
Have a Super Sunday! 💪
Holzel et al., 2011
Kasala et al., 2014