Experts estimate that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s an average of 2500 – 3,300 thoughts per hour. Other experts estimate a smaller number, of 50,000 thoughts per day, which means about 2100 thoughts per hour. It makes you feel tired just…….thinking about it.
This is where practices such as mindfulness come into their own. The image of a monk sitting cross legged in an orange robe may cross your mind, but thankfully, what they have known for thousands of years has now become very much accepted in western society as a way of quietening the mind, and being in the moment.
Large population-based research studies have indicated that the practice of mindfulness is strongly correlated with greater well-being and perceived health, and doubtless to say we could all do with more of that. The best part is, as you practice this “inward dive” you’ll be able to access an inner peace that already exists within you.
Ageing And The Brain
Meditation (including the practice of mindfulness) is a fountain of youth for mental ageing. The human brain naturally begins to deteriorate in your 20s. Maintaining a healthy brain can be supported with the powerful practice of meditation, in fact, and backed up with research by Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist from Harvard Medical School, experienced meditators 40-50 years old were found to have the same amount of gray matter as an average 20-30-year-old.
Meditation is shown to thicken the pre-frontal cortex. This brain centre manages higher order brain function, like increased awareness, concentration, and decision making. Changes in the brain show, with meditation, higher-order functions become stronger, while lower-order brain activities decrease. In other words, you have the power to train your brain.
So, What Is Mindfulness?
From Wikipedia we get – present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the Pali term sati, which is a significant element of some Buddhist traditions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world authority on the use of mindfulness training in the management of clinical problems, defines it as follows:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way:
On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
The Benefits Of Mindfulness
- helps you to be fully present, here and now
- to experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings safely
- to become aware of what you’re avoiding
- to become more connected to yourself, to others and to the world around you
- to increase self-awareness
- to become less disturbed by and less reactive to unpleasant experiences
- to learn the distinction between you and your thoughts
- to have more direct contact with the world, rather than living through your thoughts
- to learn that everything changes; that thoughts and feelings come and go like the weather
- to have more balance, less emotional volatility
- to experience more calm and peacefulness
- to develop self-acceptance and self-compassion
So How Do We “Do” Mindfulness?
In 7 steps:
1. Make Time
Set aside a small block of time every day that you can commit to. It is ideal if this time is the same every day, but not imperative. Like it or not we’re all creatures of habit, regularity works in many (most) areas of our life.
2. Find Your Place
Make sure you have access to a quiet space. Close the door and put your phone on silent, or better yet, turn it off completely. Personally, I prefer to embrace the benefits of technology and use a great app called “https://insighttimer.com/“ to keep me on track. If you have a time limitation then this app takes care of that also.
3. Get Comfortable!
Sit on a chair or couch, with your back straight and feet on the floor. Let your hands sit comfortably in your lap. If preferred adopt the classic posture and sit on the cushion cross-legged with the back straight, or kneeling using a stool as in many Zen practices.
Take a few slow, deep breaths, about five or so. On your last breath, close your eyes.
5. Take In The Present Moment
Focus on what your body feels like, how the room smells, and whether you can feel any stress in your body. Allow your thoughts to drift through your mind, but try to remain a passive observer, rather than worrying about their possible implications.
To quote Theravada Buddhist Monk Ajahn Brahm – “Outside of meditation we have to carry the burden of our many duties, like so many heavy suitcases, but within the period of meditation so much baggage is unnecessary. So, in meditation see how much baggage you can unload”.
Remaining in this position for the time allotted may be difficult, intrusive thoughts may present themselves the moment you feel as though you’ve managed to clear your mind. Don’t get discouraged! Remember that there is no “goal” in this sort of activity, just learn to be comfortable with yourself in the present moment.
Note this is harder than you might imagine, so every time you find yourself going down a train of thought bring yourself back to the present. What I find useful in my own practice is something I heard from Ajahn Brahm, imagine you have two baskets beside you, one for the past, and one for the future. Just “drop” your thoughts into one of these two baskets as they arise.
7. When You’ve Finished
It can be difficult to transition from this quiet, calm state to the bustle of your everyday life so ease yourself into it gradually, but as you go about your day reflect on the sensation of being fully present.