Mindfulness Matters

by Jo Anne Nelson on April 11, 2011

We are often told that we need to relax. But did you know that if you do it consistently, you can actually increase your brain’s grey matter in as little as eight weeks?

A recent study by a Harvard-related team from Massachusetts General Hospital reveals that consistent meditation, or a mindful activity such as yoga, can increase areas of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. So, not only can it make you feel better, and help you throughout your day, but it can actually increase the number of your brain cells.

What is mindfulness?

The term, as used here, is derived from the teachings of Buddhism. In its simplest form it means bringing our complete attention to our present experience on a moment-to-moment basis. In doing so, we are more connected to real time experience and see a wider array of available options at any given moment. Practicing mindfulness is a critical gateway to creativity.

On the other hand, when we focus on the past or the future we narrow our peripheral vision and decrease the number of possibilities that are apparent to us. We limit our mental and creative capacities.

How can we be mindful?

While there are a variety of methods for practicing mindfulness, my favorite method is a simple one.

Choose a time to sit quietly and free of distractions like phones, co-workers, kids. Begin by locating your self in space and time—I am in Washington, DC sitting in my favorite spot in my home in Spring Valley, for instance.

Notice where you are holding tension in your body—common areas are your shoulders, neck and jaw. Focus sequentially on the tight areas. Tighten them even more. Then, exhale and allow them to relax.

Focus next on your breathing. In and out, over and over. You will find that you will be distracted by noises, thoughts that swirl in and out of your mind. Each time you realize you are distracted, refocus on your breath.

Repeating this practice over and over again builds your ability to maintain focus and be present and undistracted by the past or the future. The more you practice, the easier it will be to minimize distractions.

What are the outcomes? An ability to be more present during the rest of your day and see more possibilities, an increased feeling of well-being, and a bigger brain.

Take a minute or two today and give it a try!

 

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