Wellness Wednesday: How mindfulness can unlock a more effective you
In recent years, the term mindfulness has been used more and more – from apps to TV programmes, from sports to the boardroom. What started as an alternative approach in mind/body medicine has now breached the domains of the mainstream.
In today’s Wellbeing Wednesday feature, Mindfulness Executive and Leadership Coach Amy McCae explains what mindfulness actually is, the benefits it can bring, and how it relates to our emotional intelligence.
Although the term “Mindfulness” often conjures up an image of a monk sitting on a mountain chanting “OM,” neuroscience proves that this ancient practice is worthy of exploration today. Your true power lies in this moment. If you understand who you are and your emotional processes, you are living not only an authentic life, but also an empowered life.
Mindfulness is really a brain thing and can also be referred to as attention training. Mindfulness means being aware on purpose in a particular way and to do so without judgement. It means being aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations and still being at peace in that moment.
Some of the core mindfulness practices include: mindful breathing, mindful listening, loving kindness, mindful eating, mindful walking, journaling, gratitude, affect labeling/mindful emotions, and a body scan.
Pause for a moment. Feel the sensation of air through your nostrils. Is it hot or cool? Note the rise and fall of the chest. Is it resistance or ease? Bring your awareness to the expansion and contraction of your abdomen. Do you feel your clothes? Notice thoughts, notice sensations, notice sounds. Now choose one of these and practice paying attention to your breathing for 2 minutes.
When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. We all have thoughts. The goal is not to control the mind, but also not to let it control you. Notice how you feel. You have just begun mindful breathing by paying attention to your breath on purpose. You are always breathing, so you can always practice.
In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn (PhD, scientist, author, professor, founder of MBSR and often referred to as the Godfather of Mindfulness) put Mindfulness on the map in the Western world when he founded the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts. The program was developed for chronically ill patients who did not respond well to traditional methods and has been very successful.
Essentially, Jon Kabat-Zinn took Buddhism and Voodoo Woo-doo out of Mindfulness Meditation when he created the program. He said: “I bent over backwards to structure it and find ways to talk about it that avoided as much as possible the risk of it being seen as Buddhist, New Age, Eastern mysticism or just plain flaky.”
Since then, neuroscience has shown us compelling evidence that a regular Mindfulness meditation practice leads to chemical and structural changes in the brain that allow you to experience the benefits.
One of my favorite studies is from Sara Lazar who is a neuroscientist from Harvard who accidentally came across mindfulness and experienced such great benefits that she did her own studies and now teaches mindfulness herself.
Mindful Schools of California (and many other industry leaders) teach the neuroscience of mindfulness. Mindfulness practice deactivates the part of your brain responsible for stress (amygdala), which in turn gives you access to the part of your brain responsible for all higher levels of thinking (pre-frontal cortex).
There are 9 aspects of well-being that are developed through a mindfulness training/attention training/prefrontal cortex activation: bodily regulation, insight, adaptive communication, empathy, emotional regulation, fear modulation, response flexibility, intuition and morality. (Gratitude may be on this list soon).
You can begin to see how the aspects of well-being that are developed can lead to things like increased self-esteem, greater compassion and empathy, better health, more fulfilling relationships, higher creativity, effective communication, higher success rates, and a happier everyday life.
Mindfulness is the same as self-awareness. They are essentially the same thing. One domain of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. You cannot know yourself accurately if you do not know and understand your emotional processes.
Mindfulness practice deactivates the part of your brain responsible for stress (amygdala), which in turn gives you access to the part of your brain responsible for all higher levels of thinking (pre-frontal cortex).
Emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.
Often referred to as “practicing the pause,” you can pause like you did with your breathing and make a more conscious choice. With continued practice, you will develop higher levels of emotional intelligence so that you will begin to intuitively respond to people and situations as opposed to reacting emotionally. Imagine how many arguments you will save and how much less remorse and guilt you will feel?
This is truly a space for self-confidence where you have the opportunity to think, speak and act in line with your values. This is where you have the ability to create change, be authentic and live with purpose.
The beginning of emotional intelligence begins with naming what you feel and then being able to feel it in your body and then being able to ask compassionate questions that help you move through. What you resist persists, so if you don’t tend to your emotional well-being, it will destroy your well-being, your success, and your relationships.
There are countless ways to begin developing emotional intelligence, including formal mindfulness meditation-based practices, as well as self-evaluation, journaling, and even gratitude.
The problem that often arises is difficulty sticking to a practice, so it is necessary to make it a priority – plan it, get help, get a buddy and be kind to yourself on the journey. Cultivate compassion and curiosity for yourself and the experience. The processes and awareness are the focus, not the end result.
Enjoy the journey.
Remember that your power is in this moment.
Amy McCae is a Workplace Wellness Coach and Transformational Speaker & Trainer. She helps industry leaders reduce stress and overwhelm so they can have clarity, confidence and peace of mind, as well as more time for fun, family and themselves. She offers Mindfulness-based coaching and training to improve well-being and success, focusing on holistic health, empathic leadership and the development of self-awareness.
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