I’m waiting until I get really upset about something to practice my mindfulness.
These words, spoken by one of my clients when first discussing the best time to establish a daily mindfulness practice, could not have been more incorrect. The fact is, just like practicing to ride a bicycle or drive a car, it is an activity that must be done with regularity if positive results are to be expected.
A consistent mindfulness practice is proven to help individuals cope more effectively with stressful situations, improve focus and the resilience necessary to rebound from difficult events, approach life with more composure, energy, understanding, and enthusiasm, and, in many cases, manage and reduce pain levels. However, in order to accomplish this, a practice must have been established so one’s body systems will have begun to notice the impact from the practice.
Once mindfulness is practiced with consistency, research has shown positive changes in the brain that impact the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. In the prefrontal cortex where processing and higher-order thinking take place, the result is improved empathy, intuition, and social awareness, all of which can impact relationships whether professionally or personally. At the same time, the more primitive brain functions of the amygdala are better suppressed or controlled by meditative practices. These primitive, knee-jerk reactions would include the reactions that are driven by strong negative emotions like fear, anger, frustration or embarrassment. These, leading to reactions like fighting, running, or freezing in your spot, are easy to remember in your own experiences; just think back to the last time you ranted or raved as a reaction to something you didn’t like and you’ll have a perfect example of the last time the negativity took control over your words and actions. Highly embarrassing!
Practicing mindfulness will exercise your brain in much the same way as physical exercise helps your body systems. You will be nurturing positive states of mind that build the neural networks and create habits that will yield positive results. Impulse control will improve, along with emotional awareness, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. All of these are characteristics that will make you more successful in every interaction you experience.
Mindfulness can be practiced easily and with no cost involved. As you move through your day, try any one of these ideas:
- Stop for one minute and focus on what you are doing during that one minute. Notice if and where you might feel stress; how you are breathing. Just stop and check in with yourself. Try to do this three times during each day.
- When you get into bed at night, start with the tip of your head and work your way down to your toes and check in with each part of your body. If something feels tense, make a conscious effort to relax that part of your body. When you get down to your toes, work your way back up to the tip of your head. Make sure you notice any sensations in each part of your body; do not skip from one body part to another just because you feel an itch or tickle. Make sure you notice how your skin feels against any fabric: hot or cold, or soft or hard.
Being such a simple practice, many mistakenly believe that mindfulness is easy. Not so. Mindfulness requires time that you take away from other diversions and just take that time and focus on yourself. It’s hard to do, but, with consistency, you will be prepared for the next upset that comes your way.