23 Amazing Health Benefits of Mindfulness for Body and Brain

Taken on August 21, 2021 from:  https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-mindfulness/

Author:  Courtney E. Ackerman, M.A.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that there are countless ways to apply mindfulness in your everyday life.

You have probably also noticed that there are tons of benefits of practicing mindfulness regularly.

Although we’ve talked about these benefits in a few other places, we thought it would be helpful to provide one resource that breaks down all of the great benefits of practicing mindfulness in one place, with sources to back them up.

If you’re wondering what you can get out of being mindful, read on to learn about all the great things mindfulness can do for you!

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Mindfulness Exercises for free. These science-based, comprehensive exercises will not only help you cultivate a sense of inner peace throughout your daily life but will also give you the tools to enhance the mindfulness of your clients, students or employees.

You can download the free PDF here.

This Article Contains:

The 5 Most Common Benefits of Mindfulness

We’ll start with some of the benefits you probably already expect from mindfulness, like enhancing your ability to deal with everyday struggles.

1. Decreased Stress

If you read our piece on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), you know that mindfulness is considered a key element to fighting stress.

An entire stress reduction program, with decades of experience and tens of thousands of practitioners, is an excellent indication that mindfulness works.

In addition to the outcomes of MBSR, there have been numerous studies supporting the idea that mindfulness reduces stress.

One study on present-moment awareness found that it facilitates an adaptive response to daily stressors (Donald, Atkins, Parker, Christie, & Ryan, 2016). Another study by Donald and Atkins (2016) found evidence that mindfulness produced less avoidance and more approach coping as a response to stress than relaxation or self-affirmation controls.

Mindfulness can also help alleviate stress by improving emotion regulation, leading to a better mood and better ability to handle stress (Remmers, Topolinski, & Koole, 2016).

The impact of mindfulness on stress can also be seen in several specific groups, including:

  • Those who suffer from restless legs syndrome (Bablas, Yap, Cunnington, Swieca, & Greenwood, 2016);
  • Parents (Gouveia, Carona, Canavarro, & Moreira, 2016);
  • Healthcare professionals (Burton, Burgess, Dean, Koutsopoulou, & Hugh-Jones, 2017);
  • Veterans with depression and/or PTSD (Felleman, Stewart, Simpson, & Heppner, 2016);
  • Police officers (Bergman, Christopher, & Bowen, 2016).

For an excellent dive into how mindfulness affects the experience of stress, check out the Little Book of Mindfulness by Rebecca Howden and Medibank. I’ll leave it to them to dive into the nitty-gritty, but I’ll describe their explanation of the relaxation response.

Howden and Medibank first list the symptoms of stress, including:

  • Constantly feeling anxious and worried;
  • Feeling irritable, agitated and easily annoyed;
  • Argumentative and defensive with friends and family;
  • Restless sleeping;
  • Low levels of energy, often waking up feeling tired;
  • Restless and frenetic mind;
  • Often self-critical and/or critical of others;
  • Feeling flat and uninspired;
  • Having difficulty concentrating;
  • Skin rashes and conditions;
  • Clenching your jaw muscles and grinding your teeth at night;
  • Headaches and migraines.

When you induce a state of relaxation, which can be achieved through mindfulness, another kind of meditation, or other activities, you can reap the benefits, including:

  • Higher brain functioning;
  • Increased immune function;
  • Lowered blood pressure;
  • Lowered heart rate;
  • Increased awareness;
  • Increased attention and focus;
  • Increased clarity in thinking and perception;
  • Lowered anxiety levels;
  • Experience of being calm and internally still;
  • Experience of feeling connected.

Gaining these benefits can be as simple as closing your eyes and being silent for a few minutes a day. This is a practice that is so easy, anyone can do it!

 2. Enhanced Ability to Deal with Illness

Perhaps one of the most studied groups in terms of the impacts of mindfulness is cancer patients and others who are suffering from a chronic or potentially terminal illness.

Mindfulness may not take away their symptoms, but it can help make them more manageable.

For example, the eCALM trial, a therapy program for cancer patients, found that mindfulness can reduce symptoms of stress, enhance spirituality and non-reactivity to experience, facilitate post-traumatic growth, and enhance vigor while relieving fatigue (Zernicke, Campbell, Speca, ruff, Tamagawa, & Carlson, 2016).

Another cancer-specific mindfulness program decreased rumination and worry and increased observing and nonjudging in cancer patients (Labelle, Campbell, Faris, & Carlson, 2015).

An exploration of MBSR for those suffering from chronic low back pain found that mindfulness improved patients’ ability to function independently and resulted in less back pain than treatment as usual (Cherkin, Sherman, Balderson, Cook, Anderson, Hawkes, Hansen, & Turner, 2016).

Mindfulness can also help patients to focus less on the pain, improving their quality of life

(Garland & Howard, 2013).

A study on the use of MBSR with lung cancer patients and their partners showed that mindfulness can instigate a process of positive change in patients and their partners, as well as relieving caregiver burden in partners (van den Hurk, Schellekens, Molema, Speckens, & van der Drift, 2015).

Similarly, a review of MBSR for family caregivers found that mindfulness can decrease stress, depression, and anxiety in those caring for a loved one who is sick (Li, Yuan, & Zhang, 2016).

3. Facilitation of Recovery

Mindfulness can not only help you deal with a chronic or potentially terminal illness or life-threatening event, but it can also help you move on from it.

A study of MBSR in Chinese breast cancer survivors provided evidence that mindfulness can enhance post-traumatic growth and decrease stress and anxiety in cancer patients (Zhang, Zhou, Feng, Fan, Zeng, & Wei, 2017).

Another study of young breast cancer survivors showed that women who practiced mindfulness were more likely to experience increased self-kindness, decreased rumination, and decreased stress (Boyle, Stanton, Ganz, Crespi, & Bower, 2017).

Mindfulness, yoga, and meditation have also been found to decrease anxiety and facilitate post-traumatic growth in breast cancer survivors, in addition to increasing vigor and spirituality (Tamagawa, Speca, Stephen, Lawlor-Savage, & Carlson, 2015).

 4. Decreased Depressive Symptoms

Mindfulness has long been considered an effective supplemental treatment for depression.

It has been found to decrease depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress in college students, as well as increasing self-compassion when compared with yoga alone (Falsafi, 2016).

One of the ways in which mindfulness can help treat depression is through enhancing practitioners’ ability to regulate their emotions. Mindfulness provides the tools needed to step back from intense negative emotions, identify them, and accept them instead of fighting them. This allows mindful thinkers to better regulate their emotions, leading to better coping and management of depression.

A study by Costa and Barnhofer (2016) backs this theory. They found that, when compared to guided imagery relaxation, a brief training in mindfulness helped participants struggling with depression to reduce their symptoms through greater emotion regulation.

Another study found that MBCT reduced depressive episodes, which not only helped participants feel better but also had positive impacts on their health care costs (Shawyer, Enticott, Özmen, Inder, & Meadows, 2016).

Mindfulness is even effective for people dealing with the most critical of depressive symptoms: suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide. In chronically depressed participants with suicidal thoughts, mindfulness was more effective than treatment as usual in reducing these thoughts (Forkmann, Brakemeier, Teismann, Schramm, & Michalak, 2016).

5. Improved General Health

Beyond the many mental health benefits of mindfulness, it can also improve your general health.

For example, a study of how the two facets of mindfulness impact health behaviors found that practicing mindfulness can enhance or increase multiple behaviors related to health, like getting regular health check-ups, being physically active, using seat belts, and avoiding nicotine and alcohol (Jacobs, Wollny, Sim, & Horsch, 2016).

Another study on mindfulness and health showed that mindfulness is related to improved cardiovascular health through a lower incidence of smoking, more physical activity, and a healthier body mass index (Loucks, Britton, Howe, Eaton, & Buka, 2015).

Additionally, mindfulness has been positively linked with lower blood pressure, especially when the practitioner is skilled in nonjudging and nonreactivity (Timor, Pung, Mills, & Edwards, 2015).

Finally, in a study on the impacts of mindfulness on the psychological and physical health of obese or overweight adults, researchers found that mindfulness helped participants lose weight, improve their eating behaviors and attitudes, and decrease depression and anxiety (Rogers, Ferrari, Mosely, Lang, & Brennan, 2017).

While all of these benefits of mindfulness can be experienced by children as well as adults, there are some benefits that have been found specifically in young people. These are outlined in the next section.

Health Benefits of Mindfulness for Kids and Students

Many studies have been conducted using college students as participants, as they are an easily accessible population that is often willing to participate for simple incentives like extra credit or some extra spending money.

Mindfulness studies with children as the participants are becoming more common as well, as more and more benefits of mindfulness on early development are discovered. We’ll describe some of the amazing outcomes associated with mindfulness on children, teens, and young adults here.

 Benefits for College Students

Adults are not the only ones who can reap the benefits of mindfulness.

College students have also experienced incredible positive impacts resulting from the practice of mindfulness.

A study on mindfulness in college students found that medical and psychology students who practiced mindfulness reported improvements in a wide range of areas, including decreased reactivity, increased curiosity and affect tolerance, improved patience, and self-acceptance, and enhanced relational qualities (Solhaug, Eriksen, de Vibe, Haavind, Friborg, Sørlie, & Rosenvinge, 2016).

Problems with alcohol are more prevalent in college students than many other populations and can lead to serious issues with both academic progress and life in general. Mindfulness may be an effective tool for addressing this issue, as it has been negatively linked with alcohol problems and can help students deal with the stress that may prompt drinking in this population (Bodenlos, Noonan, & Wells, 2013).

Mindfulness has also been shown to be an important link between the depressive symptoms that spring from alcohol-related problems and the incidence of drinking to cope in college students (Bravo, Pearson, Stevens, & Henson, 2016).

College students who practice or have practiced mindfulness were less likely to experience depression stemming from the use of alcohol to cope with their problems.

Another study on drinking in college students found that those who practice mindfulness are engaged in lower rates of problematic drinking, especially those proficient in acting with awareness and nonjudging (Vinci, Spears, Peltier, & Copeland, 2016).

The effects of mindfulness on the likelihood of drinking may be due in part to the impact of mindfulness on self-control. College students who participated in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) reported enhanced self-control and vitality, among other outcomes (Canby, Cameron, Calhoun, & Buchanan, 2015).

Similarly, a study on mindfulness and emotion regulation in college students found that higher levels of mindfulness predicted better regulation of emotions and suppression of thoughts (MacDonald & Baxter, 2016). Better self-regulation and self-control contribute to the more effective positive inhibition of destructive behaviors and, in turn, greater psychological well-being.

In general, children are not likely to have the same problems college students do (especially problems like over-imbibing!), but there are many areas in which mindfulness can have positive outcomes for children.

Improved Academic Success

Mindfulness is known to be effective in helping students achieve academic success in a variety of ways, and this benefit is not reserved for any specific group.

The following groups of children have enjoyed the benefits of mindfulness when it comes to their academic performance:

  • Elementary students who practice mindfulness exhibit greater prosocial behaviors, emotion regulation, and academic performance (Harpin, Rossi, Kim, & Swanson, 2016);

  • Teenagers studying for a general education certificate who participated in a mindfulness program experienced lower depression and anxiety, which contributed to improved academic attainment (Bennett & Dorjee, 2016);

  • Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who participated in a five-week mindfulness program reported decreased stress, allowing them to focus on school (Costello & Lawler, 2014);

  • Urban male youth who participated in MBSR experienced less stress, anxiety, and negative coping, improving their ability to deal with academic stress and achieve academic success (Sibinga, Perry-Parrish, Chung, Johnson, Smith, & Ellen, 2013);

  • Children with ADHD displayed less aggression and conduct problems when exposed to mindfulness therapy, which helps them focus on their academics (Singh, Soamya, & Ramnath, 2016);

  • Homeless middle school students who participated in a mindfulness course reported greater well-being and a higher incidence of using mindfulness in school, which can lead to greater quality of life and academic achievement (Viafora, Mathiesen, & Unsworth, 2015).

Buffer against Bullying and Depression

Mindfulness can even help kids deal with bullies!

A Chinese study on bullying victims and depression showed that mindfulness can protect children against the depressive symptoms that can arise from being victimized by bullies (Zhou, Liu, Niu, Sun, & Fan, 2017).

A dissertation by Sandra Mccloy (2005) on mindfulness as a coping tool for bullying suggested that mindfulness can help children consider perspectives other than their own and find constructive reactions in the face of bullying.

Mindfulness may even be an effective tool for addressing bullying at the source. Improving empathy with tools like mindfulness and improving social and emotional learning could be the key to stopping bullies before they become bullies (Kaldis & Abramiuk, 2016).

 Provide Support and Boost Resilience

Mindfulness can also aid children who have been involved in the welfare or mental health care system. A study on a mindfulness program for vulnerable children found that mindfulness improved emotion regulation, mood, empathy, confidence and self-esteem, coping and social skills, and ability to pay attention and focus (Coholic & Eys, 2016).

Resilience is a very effective skill for children to cope with daily struggles and develop emotionally, psychologically, and academically. Mindfulness training has been shown to boost resilience in children and help them understand and regulate their own emotions (Coholic, 2011; Coholic, Eys, & Lougheed, 2012).

In the classroom, mindfulness can be as simple as adding a station for students to visit any time they are feeling a hard emotion. This station can have crayons and be a “pause” station for students to spend 5-10 minutes before reflecting on the emotion.

Another study showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children reduced problem behaviors, attention problems, and anxiety while improving children’s social-emotional resiliency (Semple, Lee, Rosa, & Miller, 2010).

And the benefits of mindfulness don’t stop here. Mindfulness in the workplace also has numerous benefits for all levels of staff.

 Advantages of Integrating Mindfulness in the Workplace

Although many of the benefits of mindfulness described above can and do affect individuals in all areas of their lives including work, mindfulness’ impact on job performance may be the outcome that gets the most attention and interest from managers and executives.

There are several ways that mindfulness has been shown to impact job performance, including:

  1. Gallant (2016) found that mindfulness can improve executive functioning by improving inhibition abilities;

  2. Mindfulness in service industry workers improves job performance, even when controlling for workers’ level of engagement (Dane & Brummel, 2014);

  3. De Bruin, Formsma, Frijstein, & Bögels (2017) showed that mindfulness in the workplace can actually increase the number of contract hours worked by employees, a result that will certainly catch the attention of higher-ups;

  4. Office employees who participated in an eight-week mindfulness intervention experienced lower levels of work-related stress, greater job satisfaction, and, ultimately, enhanced job performance as rated by their employers (Shonin, Van Gordon, Dunn, Singh, & Griffiths, 2014).

Beyond job performance, mindfulness has also been applied to the workplace for other benefits that can contribute to a healthy and productive work environment.

Reduced Work-Related Stress and Psychological Distress

One of the most common benefits of practicing mindfulness in the workplace is the decrease in stress experienced by employees.

Researchers Grégoire and Lachance (2015) found that employees at call centers who took part in a brief mindfulness intervention reported decreased stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and negative affect, while also experiencing greater satisfaction at work.

Similarly, employees from the Dow Chemical Company enjoyed less stress and increased resiliency and vigor after completing an online mindfulness intervention (Aikens, Astin, Pelletier, Levanovich, Baase, Park, & Bodnar, 2014).

Huang, Li, Huang, and Tang (2015) also found that mindfulness reduces stress, fatigue, and psychological distress, especially for employees struggling with poor mental health.

A study of public sector employees showed that this group was also able to benefit from the mental health effects of mindfulness. These employees reported less stress, reduced psychological distress, and improved social functioning and quality of life (Bartlett, Lovell, Otahal, Sanderson, & Tasmania, 2016).

 Decreasing Turnover and Burnout

Along with the decreases in stress, mindfulness can also lower the incidence of burnout and turnover at work.

Researchers Taylor and Millear (2016) found that mindfulness helps employees construct a buffer between their work and becoming burned out.

Dane and Brummel’s (2014) study also discovered an inverse relationship between mindfulness and turnover intention, meaning that employees who are higher in mindfulness are less likely to leave their jobs for any reason. The study referenced earlier by de Bruin and colleagues (2017) also uncovered the reduction in the risk of employees dropping out of work when mindfulness is encouraged in the workplace.

Burnout seems to occur less in workplaces that encourage and offer spaces for mindfulness.

Goodman and Schorling (2012) found that mindfulness-based stress reduction reduced work-related burnout and improved mental well-being among healthcare providers. A study of Australian psychologists added more support to this theory, finding a strong negative association between mindfulness and burnout (Di Benedetto & Swadling, 2014).

Further research on mindfulness at work showed that mindfulness can act as a buffer for unsupportive work environments, enhancing well-being at work and contributing to lower levels of burnout for employees from a range of careers (Schultz, Ryan, Niemiec, Legate, & Williams, 2015).

Clearly, mindfulness has some extremely positive impacts on both individuals and the work they produce. But how does mindfulness produce these outcomes?

Research on Mindfulness and the Brain

Recently, a lot of research has been conducted on what effects mindfulness has on the brain. It’s clear that practicing mindfulness can lead to positive outcomes, but many researchers want to know why it works as well.

This is where neuroplasticity comes in.

 Explaining Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is, at its most basic level, the ability of the brain to change and adapt over time.

This adaptation happens regularly, as the brain constantly works to make itself more efficient and effective, but neuroplasticity is of specific interest to researchers in the context of brain injuries like a stroke. Our brains can actually reorganize themselves to ensure that functions continue unhindered after a traumatic injury (Honan, 2017).

Whenever we complete a new task or find a more effective way to do something, our brain takes note, often making structural or connection changes to facilitate our next attempt at this task.

When we practice mindfulness, we send the message to our brain that we are more effective at dealing with everyday tasks when we are aware, observant, nonreactive, and nonjudgmental. This causes our brain to make the changes that will improve our ability to function mindfully.

Note: For the more neurobiologically inclined among our readers, continue on in this section to read more about how the brain changes after practicing mindfulness. If you’ve already had enough talk of brain structures and gray matter, feel free to skip the jargon and head straight to the next section!

For example, meditation practice has been linked to an increased thickness in the cortex, an area that is important for a general cognitive function like attention and sensory processing (Lazar et al., 2005).

Similarly, long-term meditation is linked with a denser gray matter in the brain stem, an area that is linked to cardiorespiratory control (Vestergaard-Poulsen, van Beek, Skewes, Bjarkam, Stubberup, Bertelsen, & Reopstorff, 2009). This may help explain how mindfulness produces positive outcomes in cardiovascular, as well as general, health.

A study on an 8-week MBSR program showed that the regular practice of mindfulness increased grey matter in the left hippocampus, an area involved in learning and memory (Hölzel, Carmody, Vangel, Congleton, Yerramsetti, Gard, & Lazar, 2011). This finding can help us make sense of the improvements in academic achievement and job performance that can result from mindfulness.

Mindfulness has also been shown to result in changes in white matter, particularly in areas involving brain interconnection and self-regulation (Tang, Lu, Fan, Yang, & Posner, 2012). You’ll recall from above that improved self-regulation is a key result of mindfulness practice, and can lead to a plethora of advantageous outcomes.

In general, mindfulness is known to impact brain systems that control emotion regulation and self-awareness (Paulus, 2016), which makes sense given the outcomes we have seen in the practice of mindfulness.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Hippocampus and Mindfulness.

More specifically, one study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess changes in the brain after an eight-week mindfulness course.

Results showed that the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, and other areas experienced heightened activity and connectivity, while the amygdala experienced decreased functional activity and earlier deactivation after exposure to emotionally charged stimuli (Gotink, Meijboom, Vernooji, Smits, & Hunink, 2016).

This means that the areas of the brain associated with higher-level functioning were more active, while the area of the brain that handles stress and strong emotions was less involved. These findings match the behavioral changes we see after a mindfulness program, like better emotion regulation, less reactivity, and even better performance on tasks.

Another study of brain activity related to mindfulness found evidence that mindfulness is associated with areas of the brain related to memory retrieval, decision making, and outward attention, all functions which can help link the bridge between mindfulness and improved mental health and job performance, among other outcomes (Gartenschläger, Schreckenberger, Buccholz, Reiner, Beutel, Adler, & Michal, 2017).

While the science of neuroplasticity in relation to mindfulness is still relatively young (as neuroscience as a whole is relatively young!), these studies and others have provided a solid foundation for continuing research on how mindfulness impacts the brain.

 The Importance of Consistent Practice

“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”

Buddha

While everyone has something to gain from practicing mindfulness, there is one caveat: to reap the maximum benefits of mindfulness, it truly needs to be a practice, meaning that it must occur regularly and often.

Nearly all of the articles mentioned above on the benefits of mindfulness are based on a mindfulness practice of five to eight weeks, or more. While a regular practice is vital, it does not need to be a huge commitment. Even a brief, 10-minute daily practice can result in more efficient cognition and better self-regulation (Moore, Gruber, Derose, & Malinowski, 2012)!

Another study on the effects of a 10-minute mindfulness exercise showed that even just a few minutes of mindfulness practice can lead to better executive attention and recognition memory, leading to better performance on a simple task (Watier & Dubois, 2016).

If you need some tips on how to commit to a regular mindfulness practice, try the following (Lucid Living, 2013):

  • Find the right motivation and intention. If you are experiencing a busy day or just don’t feel like practicing mindfulness, it might help to remind yourself why you practice and what it can do for you.

  • Find the right attitude and attention. Each practice will be different, but try not to think of them as “better” or “worse.” There is no bad way to become more mindful.

  • Find the right time and timing. Just as each practice will be different, the length of time appropriate for your practice can vary as well. Some days you may need only a few minutes, and other times you may want to stick with it for a bit longer to make sure you have a rewarding experience.

  • Find the right spot and posture. It’s important to feel safe and secure, wherever you decide to practice. That may be on a cushion on the floor, in your office chair at work, or even sitting in your car in traffic. You will benefit from finding a comfortable and familiar spot for your regular practice, but there’s no harm in modifying your seat or posture if circumstances require it!

  • Find the right routine and stick to it! Although the length, location, and posture of your practice can and will change depending on your situation, it’s best to make a minimum commitment when it comes to frequency. Whether practicing once a day works best for you, or multiple times a day, find a routine that you will be able to stick to in the long-term.

Another helpful way to support your commitment to a daily practice of mindfulness is to assign a different value to each day’s practice.

Dr. Amit Sood, the chair of the Mayo Mind Body Initiative, provides the following mindfulness schedule as a template:

  1. Monday: Gratitude – Find things to be thankful for throughout your day, and include them in your loving kindness meditation or a gratitude journal;

  2. Tuesday: Compassion – Set an intention to decrease any pain or suffering in others that you encounter throughout your day;

  3. Wednesday: Acceptance – Accept yourself as you are and others as they are; appreciate yourself and other people without trying to change them;

  4. Thursday: Meaning and Purpose – Think about your ultimate purpose in life, and where and how you find meaning;

  5. Friday: Forgiveness – Forgive yourself first, then extend your forgiveness to others for any past transgressions;

  6. Saturday: Celebration – Make sure to take a day to celebrate all the joy in your life and the lives of others;

  7. Sunday: Reflection – Reflect on your week, your month, your year, or whatever period of time makes sense to you at the moment. This can be accomplished through meditation, prayer, or simple awareness.

A Take-Home Message

This article was packed with a lot of information, but I hope you found that it was worth your time.

To recap, this article included numerous potential benefits of practicing mindfulness for adults, children, and employees, including:

  • Decreased stress and psychological distress in adults and employees;
  • Enhanced mental health and functioning;
  • Increased emotion regulation and self-control;
  • Decreased anxiety, depression, worry, and rumination;
  • Reduced incidence of problem drinking and symptoms associated with problem drinking;
  • Enhanced academic achievement in students, due to improved ability to focus and improved attention;
  • Improved social and relational skills;
  • Reduction in aggression and problem behaviors in children;
  • Reduced symptoms of burnout in employees;
  • A decrease in turnover and turnover intentions at work;
  • Enhanced job performance;
  • Increased ability to cope with bullying;
  • Enhanced resilience in children.

There are so many amazing benefits to practicing mindfulness, with more being discovered all the time. With such positive potential outcomes, the reasons not to practice mindfulness are quickly evaporating.

If you’ve decided to give mindfulness a try, restart a stalled practice, or if you’re looking to enrich your mindfulness practice or contribute to a healthy practice by your clients, check out our pieces on mindfulness-based stress reductionmindfulness exercises and techniques for adults, and mindfulness exercises and techniques for children and teens.

I hope you find these tips and techniques as helpful as I did!

The 7 (Proven) Keys to Improving Your Mental Health!

In honor of World Mental Health Day!!

THE 7 (PROVEN) KEYS TO IMPROVING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Taken from Melli O’Brien’s blog, with permission from Melli ~ one of my FAVORITE mindfulness teachers! 

AddictionAnxietyArticlesBrain HealthDepressionHappinessHealthHelpful Habits, Mindfulness, Research, Stress

Did you know that one in five people these days are affected by mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression? These days many of us are also struggling with stress and overwhelm as the pace and demands of life increase.

I believe now more than ever we all need to commit to making our mental health a priority.

In honour of World Mental Health Day, here are seven proven tips that will improve your mental health and boost your well being.

1.  EXERCISE REGULARLY

It’s well known that exercise is important for keeping our bodies healthy, but did you know that exercise is also vital for good mental health? Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health, reduced risk of developing mental illness and greater emotional well being too.

 HOW EXERCISE BOOSTS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

  • Exercise increases your energy levels both mentally and physically.
  • Exercise helps you sleep better, and good sleep helps regulate your emotions.
  • Exercise can improve confidence and self-esteem as you achieve a healthy goal and take care of yourself.
  • Exercise changes hormones and chemicals in the brain in mood boosting ways including an ‘endorphin rush’ that increases feelings of calm and happiness as well as improving focus and memory.
  • Physical activity can be an outlet for irritation, frustration and bad moods.
  • Exercise is a powerful way to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. For example research suggests exercise can be as effective as medication or speaking to a psychologist for overcoming mild depression.

 THINK ABOUT STARTING SMALL

Keeping physically active doesn’t have to mean working out at the gym, it can be simply going for a walk in the park. Experts advise that at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week is ideal. If you’re not currently exercising why not start small with a goal that feels immediately achievable – like just 5 to 10 minutes a day. Start small and you can build up from there. This is often the best way to form new habits.

2.  PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness (a form of meditative awareness) involves training our attention and learning to have a more wise and skillful relationship with our own minds. Mindfulness teaches us to unhook from unhelpful and unproductive thought patterns and behaviours. It involves learning to steady our awareness in the present moment rather than getting lost in our heads worrying, ruminating about problems or locked into self-criticism or negative judgements.

 RESEARCH SHOWS THAT MINDFULNESS…

  • Reduces stress, depression and anxiety
  • Increases stress resilience
  • Brings feelings of peace and inner calm
  • Improves relationships
  • Improves overall sense of well being and life satisfaction

3.  EAT A HEALTHY DIET

What we eat affects how we feel. If you’ve ever watched how quickly sugar can have an effect on the mood of small children (and adults too) or if you’ve ever felt dull and tired after a heavy lunch of carbs you’ll have seen and felt the effects that foods we choose to eat can have.

But it’s not just sugar and heavy carbs. All kinds of foods can also have short-term as well as long-lasting effects on your mental health. Your body needs a mix of nutrients and minerals to function well, so making sure you’re eating a good diet is truly vital for mental health.

A HEALTHY DIET INCLUDES

  • A variety of fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • A good source of protein, from either fish meats (from good sources) or plant-based
  • Regular water consumption 6- 8 glasses per day
  • Potentially dairy, grains and complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, pumpkin etc

               TRY TO LIMIT

  • How much caffeine you drink
  • How much sugar is in your diet
  • Taking in a lot of intoxicants
  • Things you are intolerant or allergic to

4.  DRINK IN MODERATION

Many people who overindulge in drinking alcohol (or other substances) commonly do it to change their mood. Although it may numb or overcome a difficult feeling for a while, the effects are short-lived. Alcohol doesn’t deal with the causes of difficult feelings or solve our problems. It makes them worse. There are much healthier ways of dealing with difficult feelings including the other ones listed in this post.

Occasional drinking in moderation is quite healthy and enjoyable for most people. As a useful guide to drinking in moderation, keep in mind that the daily alcohol limit recommended by alcohol.gov.au is no more than two standard drinks per day. 

5.  PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION

Do you have a harsh inner critic? It’s common to beat ourselves up and berate ourselves but research shows this habit of self-criticism comes at a price: It makes us lose confidence, feel unhappy with our lives and even leads to depression and anxiety.

Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves more kindly and studies show it makes us happier and gives us better overall emotional well being (as well as a whole host of other benefits too).

In a report published by three German psychologists, which examined 79 studies on the link between self-compassion and well-being, they reached this conclusion: People who are kinder to themselves tend to be happier.

Kristin Neff, who has been a pioneer in the study of self-compassion says, “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”

You can try some exercises to learn greater self-compassion as well as some guided meditations here. 

6.  KEEP IN TOUCH

We humans are social animals. We crave to feel connected and supported and to feel valued by others. Studies have shown that social connection is a vital key to good mental health.

Good social connection has even been linked to having a longer life. In one study on an elderly population people with strong social and community ties were two to three times less likely to die during the nine-year study.

Sometimes social connection can be a heart-to-heart talk over coffee but sometimes it can be a short phone call, or an email or message. Make sure to make time to connect with the loved ones in your life on a regular basis.

If you feel your current social life isn’t giving you enough connection, you can take steps to form new ones such as

  • Enroll in a class or hobby that interests you. You’ll be able to connect with others who share a common interest as well as getting out there and trying something new.
  • Join a book club, hiking club or other group such a knitting, meditation groups, fitness groups, community gardens or mothers groups.
  • Try volunteer work. Not only will you bond with other volunteers and recipients but helping others gives you that warm fuzzy feeling too.
  • Reach out and connect to people. Ask people out for coffees, dinners or to events like movies or bands. Try to get out and meet new people.

7.  DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE

What activities do you love doing just for the fun of it? You know the ones you really lose yourself in? Take some time each day to do things you love and just enjoy yourself.

It could be engaging in a hobby like music, art, gardening or going hiking or riding and bike. It could be just having a cup of tea in the sun. Take some each week (or even each day) to just enjoy life and let go of all your cares and worries for a while. Research also shows that it improves confidence and self esteem as well as improving our overall sense of well being.

Mental Health and Hypnosis

Mental Health and Hypnosis

Taken on 7.1.2018 from:  https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-hypnotherapy#1         

Hypnosis — or hypnotherapy — uses guided relaxation, intense concentration, and focused attention to achieve a heightened state of awareness that is sometimes called a trance. The person’s attention is so focused while in this state that anything going on around the person is temporarily blocked out or ignored. In this naturally occurring state, a person may focus his or her attention — with the help of a trained therapist — on specific thoughts or tasks.

How Does Hypnosis Work?

Hypnosis is usually considered an aid to psychotherapy (counseling or therapy), because the hypnotic state allows people to explore painful thoughts, feelings, and memories they might have hidden from their conscious minds. In addition, hypnosis enables people to perceive some things differently, such as blocking an awareness of pain.

Hypnosis can be used in two ways, as suggestion therapy or for patient analysis.

  • Suggestion therapy: The hypnotic state makes the person better able to respond to suggestions. Therefore, hypnotherapy can help some people change certain behaviors, such as stopping smoking or nail biting. It can also help people change perceptions and sensations, and is particularly useful in treating pain.
  • Analysis: This approach uses the relaxed state to explore a possible psychological root cause of a disorder or symptom, such as a traumatic past event that a person has hidden in his or her unconscious memory. Once the trauma is revealed, it can be addressed in psychotherapy.

What Are the Benefits of Hypnosis?

The hypnotic state allows a person to be more open to discussion and suggestion. It can improve the success of other treatments for many conditions, including:

Hypnosis also might be used to help with pain control and to overcome habits, such as smoking or overeating. It also might be helpful for people whose symptoms are severe or who need crisis management.

What Are the Drawbacks of Hypnosis?

Hypnosis might not be appropriate for a person who has psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, or for someone who is using drugs or alcohol. It should be used for pain control only after a doctor has evaluated the person for any physical disorder that might require medical or surgical treatment. Hypnosis also may be a less effective form of therapy than other more traditional treatments, such as medication, for psychiatric disorders.

Some therapists use hypnosis to recover possibly repressed memories they believe are linked to the person’s mental disorder. However, the quality and reliability of information recalled by the patient under hypnosis is not always reliable. Additionally, hypnosis can pose a risk of creating false memories — usually as a result of unintended suggestions or the asking of leading questions by the therapist. For these reasons, hypnosis is no longer considered a common or mainstream part of most forms of psychotherapy. Also, the use of hypnosis for certain mental disorders in which patients may be highly susceptible to suggestion, such as dissociative disorders, remains especially controversial.

Is Hypnosis Dangerous?

Hypnosis is not a dangerous procedure. It is not mind control or brainwashing. A therapist cannot make a person do something embarrassing or that the person doesn’t want to do. The greatest risk, as discussed above, is that false memories can potentially be created and that it may be less effective than pursuing other, more established and traditional psychiatric treatments.

Who Performs Hypnosis?

Hypnosis is performed by a licensed or certified mental health professional who is specially trained in this technique.

 

 

How to Live Your Truth Part 1 – Melli O’Brien

How To Live Your Truth: Identifying Your Values & Mastering Mindful Living

From: http://mrsmindfulness.com/how-to-live-your-truth-identifying-your-values-mastering-mindful-living/   taken: January 19, 2017

Do you know what the most common regret people express on their deathbed is? It’s “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

This blog post is about how not to have that regret on your deathbed.

So, what stops people from living a life that’s true to them?

Two things.

The first thing that stops people from living a life that’s true to them is the fact that they never defined or got clear on what’s true to them. They never got clear on what their own deepest values are and what’s meaningful to them.

When we feel out of touch with the deepest and truest part of ourselves, it’s all to common to fall into just following societal norms and values (which are often very different from your own) or we submit to doing what our loved ones want us to do (often in an attempt to get them to like/approve of us) instead of what we really want to do. Sound familiar?

“‘Cheshire Cat,’ asked Alice. ‘Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?’ ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to go,’ said the Cat. ‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter where you go,’ said the Cat.” –Lewis Carrol

The second thing that stops people from living their truth is a lack of awareness. A lack of mindfulness. Without mindfulness we tend to live much of our lives on ‘autopilot’ and when we’re on autopilot we often fall into conditioned, mechanical patterns of thought and behavior… most of which we did not consciously choose, and most of which was handed down to us from our culture and upbringing. Living in unawareness like this leads to a sense of discontent and disconnection from ourselves.

Mindfulness means waking up out of autopilot and connecting deeply with ourselves and our lives. It’s the ‘art of conscious living’ as Jon Kabat-Zinn likes to say. Mindfulness gives us the capacity not only to ‘listen to our hearts’ and to stay in touch with what’s meaningful to us, but it also gives us the ability to respond (from our values) and not to react (from old conditioning).

In other words, mindfulness is needed in order to LIVE your values on a daily basis.

What Are Values & Why Are They So Important?

We all have values – they are as much a part of us as our blood types or our genetic make up. They are as unique to us as our individual thumbprints. Our core values determine what’s really important and meaningful to us.

Values are who you are in your own deepest nature, not who you think you should be in order to fit in. They’re like a compass that points us to our “true north.”

When the way you think, speak and behave match your values, life feels very good – you feel whole, content, in your power. But when these don’t align with your personal values, then things feel… wrong. Life feels uneasy. You feel out of touch, discontented, restless, unhappy.

As you can see from the number one regret of the dying, there is a steep price to pay for not living according to ‘what’s true to you.’ When life feels ‘wrong’ many people try to ‘fill up’ through external pleasuring or they may try numbing or distracting themselves by keeping busy… but until you come back to living your truth, until you come back to this internal homeostasis of balance and ease, those efforts to ‘fix’ things externally will be futile.

“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one that you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
–Joseph Campbell

This is why making a conscious effort to identify and live your values is so vitally important. Here is a simple six-step process to help you identify your own core values…

How To Discover Your Core Values in Six Simple Steps…

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.  Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

STEP 1: EXPLORE

Let’s start of with an exercise to help you clearly identify your core values. Grab a pen and paper or perhaps you can choose to take notes on your computer or device.

Can you recall a moment where you felt totally yourself? A peak moment of life when you were in your element, when everything just felt… aligned? A moment when you felt happy and fulfilled? Take some time to recall this peak moment. When you’re ready, take some notes describing this peak moment in some detail.

For example, here is one of my own recent peak moments:

I had been teaching a retreat for four days and we (there were 40 of us all together) were doing a ‘closing circle’ since the retreat was coming to an end. As people began to share one by one, they really opened their hearts and shared very intimate stories, spoke of personal breakthroughs and deep insights into the human condition. There was a real sense of love, tenderness and camaraderie in the room. There were tears of laughter and tears of joy… we all ended up crying together! It felt so intimate, real and deeply connecting. I felt like I was doing exactly what I should be doing.

Once you’ve written down a peak experience of your own then…

STEP 2: EXTRACT

Ok, now that you have your peak experience written down, think about what values were being expressed and felt in that moment. What was important to you about this moment that made it so special?

From the moment I described above, I can extract that I value:

-Love and connection
-Working with people to help them suffer less and be happier (Contribution)
-Being open, vulnerable and authentic
-Feelings of courage and strength
-Vitality – a deep sense of aliveness

So now jot down a couple of things from your peak moment. Got them?

STEP 3: CHOOSE

Pick one or two values that you’ve identified as most important to you. Write them down on your paper.

Out of my five values identified above, I feel like ‘contribution’ is the one that is most important to me in my life. A close second would be ‘love.’

STEP 4: DEFINE

Now write a little bit about what your chosen value (or values) means to you. Different words mean different things to different people so it’s important to define what this value means to YOU in your life.

To me ‘contribution’ essentially means that I am being kind and caring… I am expressing the love in my heart. I am helping the world to become more peaceful, happy, healthy and in harmony. Contribution is an outward flow from my innate feelings of love towards life. The value of ‘love’ is very closely related but subtly different to me. Love as mentioned above means to me that I am feeling a deep sense of connection with another being or with life in that moment.

Write what your values mean to you, and then…

STEP 5: NAME

Choose a value name that feels right to YOU. Like I said, different words can mean different things for people so it’s important to define how this word is meaningful to you.

For instance, the word contribution to me is only meaningful if I am truly expressing my innate love for life.

I wouldn’t feel I was expressing my value of contribution if I were doing someone a favor, for example, but doing it begrudgingly. To me it always has to have genuine loving energy behind it. Contribution to me is active. Another word for contribution, in the way I mean it, could be ‘kindness.’ In fact, I feel that word fits better for me so I an going to name this value ‘kindness.’

Also perhaps to someone else ‘love’ would mean romantic love or it might mean speaking and acting in certain ways. My personal value of love means to me that I am experiencing and expressing feelings of connection and intimacy with a being or with life. So ‘love’ is my second value name.

What are yours? Jot them down.

STEP 6: REPEAT & REVEAL YOUR CORE VALUES

Now that you have one or two values you can now repeat steps 1 to 5 until you have a set of 5 to 7 values. We call this your set of core values. You may notice the same ones coming up again and again and that’s fine.  See though, if you can explore the new ones that come up as you go through the steps again until you have your core 5 to 7.

Next week we’ll talk about how to LIVE your values in daily life (the most important part!) so stay tuned for that. But one more thing I’d like to make clear about values before we go.

The Difference Between Values and Goals

There is an important distinction that needs to be made between values and goals.

Values provide a deep sense of ongoing direction for our lives – they are not ends in themselves. Goals are things that we want to achieve or do – they are often ends in themselves. Values always exist in the present moment… they can be drawn on at any given moment. Goals are in the future.

Values Are Not Rules Or Commandments

Some spiritual traditions tell people what they should value and how they should act but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Values, in the way we speak of it here, are freely chosen by YOU. Your true values are not imposed on you from external sources. They come from listening to your heart and tuning in to what matters the most to YOU.

In order to live a life that is true to you, you must be willing to be completely honest with yourself about what you value most in life.

Values are not rules or commandments and they’re best held lightly. They don’t need to become rigid or static. Values may take new forms and change and develop over time.

Now you know what your values are. In the next post I’ll give you two powerful mindfulness-based practices to help you live your values in daily life. See you then!

Of course, as always, please let me know if you have questions and comments in the comments section below. I’d love to hear how you go with it

With warmth,

Melli

Simon Sinek – Millennials and more – Absolutely worth the watch!

This is a must see video! Not only about “Millennials” but about relationships, addiction, depression and how our brains become hard-wired to reach for technology instead of relationships…
It’s absolutely worth the entire 18 minute commitment. 

Holidays and Mindfulness

5 Ways to Infuse the Holidays with Mindfulness

tree-in-canyon

How often have you begun the holiday season with the most exalted expectations, only to stumble into the New Year burned out and disappointed? The secret to making your holidays as enjoyable and stress-free as possible is to take the mindfulness you practice on your yoga mat or meditation cushion and actually apply it in your life from moment to moment. And what better time than those frenzied, emotional weeks at the end of the year? Here are some suggestions:

  1.  Live in the moment.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, most of your stress occurs when you’re worrying about the future or obsessing about the past. Live in the present, and your mind naturally settles down and your anxiety dissipates. Easier said than done, of course, especially around the holidays, when your head is filled with back-to-back commitments and an endless list of things to do and buy. But you can make a commitment to yourself to stop from time to time, shift your attention from your thinking, and pay mindful attention to your experience right now—the weight of your feet against the floor, your back against the chair, the coming and going of your breath.

2.  Let go of expectations.

The holidays are fraught with promises that life and other people can’t possibly fulfill. Maybe you desperately want to take your family on vacation, but discover you can’t afford it. Or you’re looking forward to a big family gathering, but your folks get sick and have to cancel at the last minute. Instead of attaching to the way you think things should be (and causing yourself unnecessary stress), you can choose to stay present and grounded, roll with the changes –and heed the other tips in this list.

3.  Tread softly with the relatives.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em (or a little of both), family can be a major challenge to your peace of mind, especially when they’re stressed. Breathe deeply, and resist the temptation to rehash old hurts or expect more love and approval than they can muster (see above). But do relish the tender moments and the generosity and togetherness that the holidays tend to evoke.

4.  Be especially kind and gentle with yourself.

If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you need to be the one to notice, back off, and give yourself a little loving. Take a hot bath, do some yoga, get a massage, spend quiet time in nature, meditate, or call a close friend. Do what nurtures you, then return to the fray refreshed, reinvigorated, and rebalanced.

5.  Count your blessings.

Researchers agree that the key to a happy life is to appreciate what you have. Dwell on the positive, and your mood quickly lifts. Spend five minutes each night during the holiday season reflecting on the good things that happened to you that day, even if they seem inconsequential. The sky at sunset, the loving look in a baby’s eyes, a gift from a friend, a tasty meal, a funny incident at work. Human minds tend to skew toward the negative to alert us to predators and other threats, so you need to make a special effort to correct the bias.

Above all, remember to be mindful, no matter how busy you get. In the end you’re responsible for your own happiness and peace of mind. No one else can provide it for you, even at the holidays!

Written by Stephan Bodian, November 2, 2015

From: https://www.gaia.com/article/5-ways-infuse-holidays-mindfulness

Anxiety and Mindfulness

Another great blog post written by Melli O’Brien

AKA Mrs. Mindfulness

 Busy & Stressed?

3 Tips to Make Your Day More Mindful

 I just came back from teaching my four-day retreat ‘the art of mindful living’ to forty wonderful people.

Throughout the course of those four days it became apparent that a common challenge in most of their lives was stress. They are not alone.

According to WebMD, currently 75% to 90% of doctor visits are due to complaints and illnesses related to stress (1) and Psychology Today refers to stress not just as an epidemic, but as a pandemic now (2). Stress is rampant and on the rise, especially in the west.

Trying to do too much can certainly be one factor involved in the emotional state of stress but busyness does not necessarily mean stress.

multitasking

In my life right now I am the busiest I have been in years. There are many things that need doing during the day. My man and I are juggling preparing our house for sale, running two businesses and getting ready to move.

When my schedule is very full like this I employ some tricks and ‘cheats’ to maintain mindfulness during my workday. I am going to share the three here that I find the most potent and easy to introduce to your daily routine.

1. Mindfulness Bells

In France there is a famous ‘mindfulness monastery’ called Plum Village. At random intervals during each day the sound of a ‘mindfulness bell’ echoes through the village. Upon hearing the sound every person stops whatever they are doing and takes a moment to simply be.

These pauses in the day are an opportunity for people connect deeply with themselves and to the present moment.

You may not be at a monastery but you can introduce mindfulness bells into your day. I use an awesome iPhone app called ZAZEN.

The free version that I use has two settings. One is a meditation timer but the other is a mindfulness bell which you can set to go off at intervals during the day – either 15, 30 or 60 minutes.

When you hear the sound of the bell take a brief pause from whatever you’re doing and take a deep slow conscious breath.

If you don’t have an iPhone you can get creative and set up another kind of mindfulness bell into your day.

2.Mindful Transitions

Many of us have a habit of rushing through our days as if there were a finish line we’re trying to get to. Instead of rushing from task to task practice mindful transitions.

This simply means that when you have completed a task – like say making breakfast – pause for a moment before moving to the next thing (which in this case might be walking to the dining table) and take one of those deep slow conscious breaths mentioned above.

This brings you back into the moment and therefore is a natural antidote to stress (it’s almost impossible to be fully present in the moment and stressed at the same time!).

One of the most potent places to practice a mindful transition is in the car. Once you sit in the drivers seat stop, breathe and connect – then move.

3.One Thing At A Time

Studies show multitasking is a less efficient way to do things (3). To be more accurate, what these studies show is that multitasking is a myth.

What most people think of as multitasking is actually a very quick shifting of attention from back and forth from task to task – and this rapid shifting of attention leaves you vulnerable to stress.

Being that multitasking is less efficient and also potentially harmful there is no reason to do it. Kick the habit!

Keep your focus on one thing at a time. Be fully present in the moment for each task as you do it (after all this is your life!). Not only will you be more efficient and make less mistakes but you will also be happier and notice a natural sense of peace arising as you go about your day.

Try these 3 tips out and let me know how they go for you in the comments section below. Do you have your own mindfulness tips to counter stress? Share them too!

Love Melli

  1. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/effects-of-stress-on-your-body
  2. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mind-wellness-awareness/201207/the-stress-pandemic

3) http://www.psych.utah.edu/lab/appliedcognition/publications/supertaskers.pdf

 

Bruce Lipton – The Power of Consciousness – Interview by Iain McNay

Breaking beliefs.  Conscious reality creation.  Really great information…..  and connection with Mindfulness explained. 

Favorite Quote #2 – In Honor of Intuition

 “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

~ Albert Einstein

aurora

Mindfulness and Addiction

Extinguish Addiction with Mindfulness

Addiction. It’s baffling, mysterious, and powerful.

We are all exposed to addiction directly or indirectly, one way or the other. Your brother, cousin, wife’s father, co-worker… perhaps even you suffer yourself from some form of addiction. Some experts say we can even be addicted to anger, fighting, chaos, and unhealthy relationships because we can get a high from it. The reality is that not all addictions are equally harmful. Although there are a lot of opposing views on this topic, we can all agree on is that all addictions weaken the human experience. Some even kill.

One idea that I will invite you to consider is that humans are varied in nature and deeply nuanced creatures, and therefore we posses the capacity for varied and nuanced expressions of addictions. At the same time, not everything that is done in a compulsive or obsessive fashion is an addiction.

Mindfulness Helps Treat Addiction and Alcoholism
Read more at http://www.mindfulmuscle.com/mindfulness-treats-addiction-alcoholism/#ubH4ChSGXGi8lqrV.99

In the latest version of the DSM (the book that classifies mental disorders) there was a lot of debate over what to include as an addiction or not. The discussion was productive in that it prevented us from pathologizing every habitual behavior as an addiction, such as constantly checking our smartphones etc. But that doesn’t mean that addictions are limited to the widely discussed ones such as alcohol, tobacco, substances etc.

In today’s world it would be unwise to limit “addictions” to the commonly studied ones, but it demands a more personal, introspective approach. As physician and Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan Howard Markel recently said in a New York Times article on the DSM changes:

The conclusion to draw here is that though substances like cocaine are very effective at triggering changes in the brain that lead to addictive behavior and urges, they are not the only possible triggers: just about any deeply pleasurable activity — sex, eating, Internet use — has the potential to become addictive and destructive.” Howard Markel, M.D., University of Michigan [7]

Marc Gafni, author and spiritual teacher from the mystical/Kabbalistic tradition of Judaism offers what I think is a very fitting analogy for our “everyday addictions.” Avoidance. A-void-dance. For every one of us, at the core of our existence there is a mystery when it comes to answering the questions:

  • “Who am I really?”
  • “What’s the purpose of life?”
  • “Do I matter?”
  • “Am I good enough?”

Those questions can be a terrifying proposition for many of us, even if we don’t like to admit to it. This is that uncomfortable emptiness that philosophers and thinkers across the ages have referred to as the void. Those in a 12-step program would relate to this sense of a void as part of their fundamental problem.

So, the quick fix in our fear-based society (which is offset by being pleasure-based) is to numb out. And, we have and 1001 ways to make that happen, which creates a fertile environment for ever-growing addictions.

Addictions can be born out of a series of moments when we sense that void in the form of discomfort or anxiety and quickly reach for something to fill or numb it. That something could be a cigarette, a drink, sex, anger, food, energy drinks, pain pills, the Internet etc. Again, our behavior cannot always be generalized to pathology.

Each of us as an individual knows (when we look at ourselves honestly) what we turn to for a crutch, our way to avoid feeling the void. It is nothing to be ashamed of, it just makes us human.

Another theory about how addictions are born (in part) involve what’s known as the emotional painbody:

There is such a thing as old emotional pain living inside you. It is an accumulation of painful life experience that was not fully faced and accepted in the moment it arose. It leaves behind an energy form of emotional pain. It comes together with other energy forms from other instances, and so after some years you have a “painbody,” an energy entity consisting of old emotion.

It lives in human beings, and it is the emotional aspect of egoic consciousness. When the ego is amplified by the emotion of the painbody, the ego has enormous strength still — particularly at those times. It requires very great presence so that you can be there as the space also for your painbody, when it arises. [8]

Unfortunately, our addictions can often disrupt or destroy our lives, relationships, and personal self-growth. The void isn’t going anywhere. So how can we make sure we don’t continually dance around it, and instead gradually begin to sit with it and grow from what we learn?

So far, modern medicine hasn’t found a cure for the disease of addiction as it pertains to substance abuse. But mindfulness has been consistently proving to increase our chances of extinguishing and overcoming addiction. How? Through increasing our brain’s plasticity and ability to adapt the way we perceive and react to triggers/cravings in life. [36]

One population that has been targeted for these studies are former prisoners dealing with addiction-normally to alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine who are re-entering society. Much of the time, this population is the fringe that shows us what can happen when addiction begins to take over our lives. A recent study split a number of re-entering individuals into one control group, which received standard addiction treatment after release from prison, and a second group who instead were enrolled in a 6-week Vipassana meditation course (Buddhist mindfulness training). Those who completed the mindfulness course showed significantly decreased alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use in comparison to those who completed the treatment as usual. Furthermore, the mindfulness group ended up with far lower occurrence of long-term psychiatric issues and had a more positive psycho-social outcome. [1]

So mindfulness seems to have a positive effect, but what exactly is going on?

Luckily, there has been a recent surge in neuroimaging studies that are exploring how mindfulness manifests on our neurological pathways. Mindful Muscle and the world of science have already espoused the positive physiological effects of meditation: increasing focus/attention, greater body awareness, and regulation of our emotions. Now, neuroimaging is allowing us to see the impact this is physically having on the structures in our brain. [3]

A main region of the brain that has shown repeated measurable change through mindfulness in the insular region of the cortex. The insular region plays a major role in our own self-awareness, conscious emotional states, and autonomic functions such as heart rate, breath, and other autonomic functions. Through mindfulness meditation, our awareness of body functions rises and causes a physical change in the brain by increasing the connections and thickness in the insular cortex. The implication is that through prolonged mindfulness practice, our brain is rewiring in a way that leads to an increased self-awareness and well-being [4]. Furthermore, the insula’s role in emotional regulation is strengthened. This emotional regulation is synergistic with the emotional reduction of anxiety by the amygdala through mindfulness-based practices. [34]

In an fMRI study exploring mindfulness-based interventions in smoking cessation, a literal mind-body interaction was observed between mindful attention and functional connectivity in the brain. The study split into a control group and a mindfulness group. Each group was shown typical triggers for smoking, such as images of others smoking, and the fMRI focused on areas of the brain associated with craving. The area of the cortex in the brain related to cravings (abbreviated sgACC), showed reduced functional connectivity for participants in a mindfulness-based group when compared with the control group who were shown these cues. This coupled with their decrease in self-reported cravings as well. Again, mindfulness is not just psychologically making people stronger, it is rewiring their brains to be able to tolerate discomfort and reduce cravings over time. [5]

What does all this science mean for our own addictions and how mindfulness can help?

It all comes back to stopping our a-void-dance. In a literature review published in the Journal of Clinical Outcomes Management, relapse prevention in conjunction with mindfulness was explored. Mindfulness was found to increase recognition of, and the ability to tolerate negative emotional states [2]. Notice, it is not saying that uncomfortable situations go away, or our anxiety magically disappears. In short, mindfulness gives us the strength psychologically and neurologically to sit in discomfort, to lean into the void, as opposed to avoid it and jump to our addiction.

mindfulness-helps-alcoholism

If we constantly try to avoid feeling uncomfortable with issues concerning our career, relationships, or the way we view ourselves, it is highly unlikely to find peace of mind through numbing ourselves to life.
Read more at http://www.mindfulmuscle.com/mindfulness-treats-addiction-alcoholism/#ubH4ChSGXGi8lqrV.99

If we constantly try to avoid feeling uncomfortable with issues concerning our career, relationships, or the way we view ourselves, it is highly unlikely to find peace of mind through numbing ourselves to life.

And unfortunately, our culture conditions us to turn to alcohol, cigarettes, or other substances, which can lead to a much more severe form of uncomfortable feelings. Addiction. If instead, we can learn to lean into our anxiety, sit quietly with it, and be patient enough to observe the deeper layers, we can build an emotional strength that serves us well.

Mindfulness is the vehicle we can use to achieve this.

Developing a mindfulness disposition through routine practice that expresses itself as an everyday state of being mindful, can intrinsically impact connections in our brain that are critical for mental self-exploration and emotional control. [6]

Can we overcome addiction without becoming more mindful of our thought patterns, behaviors, and emotions?

Not likely. So whatever addiction we may be dealing with, whether it is a major substance abuse issue, alcoholism, or an annoying habit of being hooked on social media, mindfulness is an invaluable tool to deal with these deficiencies.

If you, or someone you know is suffering from any form of addiction, I highly recommend practicing meditation or yoga. Mindful Strength is another great mindfulness practice that creates energetic and spiritual alignment, which serves as a powerful force in helping us cleanse the mind and body of “root causes” for our addictions.

Reposted from: http://www.mindfulmuscle.com/mindfulness-treats-addiction-alcoholism/

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