Mindfulness is not just about meditation, but has proven scientific benefits – Firstpost

Change is the way of nature and nothing stays forever. The world is changing constantly before our very eyes.

But in the last few years, change has become very rapid. Disruption is the new buzz word and volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are accepted norms. Digital technologies are transforming humanity and increasing the limits of possibilities even beyond human comprehension.

In fact, in our lives too, demands and complexity have been increasing over the last several years.

Augmented and virtual reality, digitisation, artificial intelligence, Brain-Computer Interface, genomics and biological transformation are only a few signs of what human imagination can accomplish in times to come.

This fast pace of development is accompanied by many problems such as pollution, deforestation, unchecked exploitation of natural resources such as land, water and air, animal cruelty, aging population, poverty, disease, suicides, mental disorders, drug abuse, de-personalisation, terrorism, self-guided weapons of mass destruction and the list just goes on.

These demands and the complexity will continue to increase and may grow at even more faster pace!

But are one’s physical, mental, emotional, psychological and social capacities rising at the same rate?

Representational Image. Pixabay

A world with a new breath

We all want to be happy, healthier, less stressful, more productive and in a nutshell, live a better life than we are living today.

Given these complexities, mankind must seek new orientations and fresh approaches on how to live and thrive in this fast-evolving new world. How we use these advancements will determine our fate in times to come and the way we treat ourselves and others.

Perhaps the key to this mystery lies in the ancient wisdom of mindfulness. That’s why the world over, best scholars, scientists and thinkers have started to work deeply on the science of mindfulness.

But what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the ancient Indian wisdom practiced by yogis and zen masters for centuries. Deeply rooted in Indian tradition and Buddhist meditation practices, it has been around since the Vedic period.

Mindfulness is a state of being present, hence there is no one ultimate definition or a single way of defining mindfulness.

In order to truly understand what mindfulness is, one must practice mindfulness.

I would broadly capture the meaning as, “Mindfulness is about learning to direct your attention to your present experience as it unfolds, moment by moment, keeping an open intent and curiosity, without any prejudice, and with open acceptance”

Few of main aspects of mindfulness are:

  • Noticing our thoughts, feelings and actions without being lost in them
  • Building an ability to recollect or remember our breath or body sensation
  • Knowing what is happening without losing the connection between mind, body, self and thoughts
  • Consciously directing of awareness towards the present moment

Mindfulness is allowing yourself to observe your present moment that includes your body, mind and environment right now rather than worrying about past or ruminating about the future.

It’s a kind of training that you use yourself to help you to respond skilfully to whatever is happening in the current moment, be it good or bad.

In modern times, mindfulness practices have been researched and popularised by various American practitioners and scientists such Dr Jon Kabat Zinn, Dr Ronald Seigel, Dr Richard Davidson, Sharon Salzburg, Dr Daniel Goleman, Dr Cliff Saron and many more. For the development of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programmes, many mindfulness meditation practices have been researched and used effectively to reduce stress and increase human wellbeing and efficiency.

What science says on mindfulness

For the last few decades, there has been a dramatic rise in interest by scientists when it comes to the investigation of mindfulness, where thousands of and studies are being conducted on various aspects of mindfulness.

It has been discovered that our mind naturally wanders almost 50 percent of the time, whether we are at work, at home, driving or even during conversations.

Scientists have discovered that long term mindfulness meditation practices . It also causes increased thickness in brain regions and change in neural pathways leading to lesser mind wandering, improved concentration, redirected focus, greater emotional awareness and better immune system. What’s more, mindfulness meditation profoundly enhances neural network and strengthens synaptic connections associated with attention, introspection and sensory processing in our executive brain – the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex.

Research outcomes are consistent with the premise that systematic mindfulness meditation training leads to changes in awareness, attention and emotion which can be assessed through the behavioural and neurobiological shift. These brain changes are reflective of positive emotional states and emotion regulatory behaviours.

Medical professionals and health experts are discovering mindfulness practice as a powerful tool in augmenting medical treatment and psychotherapy. Mindfulness meditation amplifies healing and recovery process considerably for suffering patients and also holds great promise for their personal development and wellbeing.

Few definitions of mindfulness as per modern science are:

“A state of psychological freedom that occurs when attention remains quiet and limber, without attachment to any particular point of view” or “Psychological state of awareness, a practice that promotes this awareness, a mode of processing and a characterological trait”.

Representational Image. Pixabay

Why mindfulness is important now?

Our neurotic gloomy demeanour of blaming, a self-numbing habit of worry and non-stop effort to accumulate is the root cause of our physical and emotional suffering.

Entangled in today’s fast-paced world, one is subjected to the influence of unwanted distractions, desires, senses and ego. Therefore, the mind should be trained to restrain cravings by senses or distraction by the continuous flow of thoughts which I call obsessive or compulsive thinking.

Since the mind is the central point of awareness, consciousness awareness is referred to here as mindfulness. Hence the best way to train oneself is to engage oneself through mindfulness practices and meditation.

The significant aspect of mindfulness is allowing you to develop an ability to calm your emotions and improve your focus. When you feel stressed, confused, distracted or overwhelmed, mindfulness practice helps you to stabilise and direct your focus chiefly to the present moment.

It needs to be known that mindfulness is not about stopping to think or emptying our brain. On the contrary, it involves observing and checking our reactions or auto pilot behaviour.

No matter the situation, the ability to calm and focus a busy mind can be beneficial. Mindfulness practice enables us to experience calm and focus in a very direct way.

By removing the unwanted noises and prejudices from our brain, mindfulness helps you to develop better strategic thinking behaviour which helps you with faster and better decision making.

Why organisations are adopting mindfulness?

Organisations that have undergone transformation through mindfulness are seeing positive returns both at an individual level and organisational level.

Leading organisations such as General Mills, Atena, Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Salesforce, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn Twitter and many more have adopted mindfulness-based training as a leadership strategy to improve employees’ mental focus, decision-making wellbeing and stress reduction.

It is sufficient to say that mindfulness helps people manage their thoughts and feelings by focusing attention on the present moment and leaving behind one’s inclination towards the judgment of others and situations. Through mindfulness, leaders develop a habit to pause amidst chaos and then consciously respond rather than react based on deep-rooted behaviour.

Mindfulness, thus, is perfect antidote to manage our modern day challenges of information overload, persistent distraction and stress in our daily life.

The author is the founder of Mindfulness India Summit, Mindful Science Centre and Beyond Mind Learning. 

The second edition of will be held on 30-31 Oct 2019 at ‘The Westin Mumbai’ with speakers from across the world including Harvard Medical School, Oxford Mindfulness Centre, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, UNESCO-MGEIP, Daniel Goleman among others.

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