What is the most enduring psychological practice throughout the last couple of thousand years?
It has to be mindfulness meditation.
In the last couple of decades there has been plenty of research to show why, it has many benefits. It’s a practice worth doing in good times and doubly so in bad times.
There are many forms of Meditation.
What they all have in common is paying attention to whatever is there – your thoughts feelings, sensations – in the moment, without judgement as fully as possible.
There are many benefits.
First, it can be for a few minutes just as a break state, relaxation and reorientation when we feel stressed.
Secondly it trains your attention. Paying attention is our greatest power, what we pay attention to will define our life. It is too precious to be wasted.
If we pay attention to anxiety that is what will grow.
All too often we amplify our fears and anxieties by brooding on them and imagining terrible futures, the amygdala (the part of the brain activated by fear, threat and strong emotions), is activated and we feel afraid. Technical term – an ‘amygdala hijack’ and here we hijack ourselves. Just when we need to think clearly, it becomes more difficult to do so.
Meditation strengthens the link between the thinking centres in the frontal cortex of the brain and the amygdala; this calms the amygdala and leads to less anxiety. It helps emotional self-regulation; we are less emotionally reactive and disturbed by what happens.
With a clearer mind, we can figure out the best course of action.
When we are mindful we are aware of all the ‘trains of thought’ that go through our mind, without having to jump on any of them, especially the ones that go off into bad places. What usually happens is we wake up having already joined the train, and then it is hard to get off.
Mindfulness practice cultivates open attention – you become more self-aware and paradoxically it also reduces uncomfortable self-consciousness.
Mindfulness practice helps focus. It increases phase locking – the degree to which the brain waves become synchronised to an external stimulus – a sign of focus. The more scattered our attention, the less phase locking. The more phase locking, the more capacity for selective attention – the more the ability to focus.
The evidence from Neuroscience is overwhelming that mindfulness meditation has enormous benefits for the brain – it is a practice that is invaluable -especially now.
There are many forms of meditation, best to find one that you like and stick with it. This is much better than forcing yourself to sit down for 20 minutes trying to relax and hoping the time will pass quickly so you can get on with your life.
Meditation is part of life – it lets you be in the flow without drowning. You can’t control your thoughts with brute force – see the great video at the top of this post – but you can see them more clearly for what they are.