“Our brain is continuously being shaped – we can take responsibility for our own brain by cultivating positive influences”
– Richard Davidson, Professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin.
Rajesh Singh, a senior executive working with a MNC, has spent hours in putting together a proposal, which he needs to present to his senior management. It has all the requisite elements of sweat, toil, time, blood and hard work. He has very high expectations pinned on it. There is a lot that is riding for Rajesh on this presentation.
He is all set to share it in front of the senior audience that has assembled; just then the pangs of anxiety hit him. “What if they dislike it? What if I get rebuked? What if I haven’t covered all possibilities? What if I go blank? What if technology fails?”.. And so on…a long list of what-ifs do a fly-by….;and all of this happening in just nanoseconds of time.
Effect of Anxieties and Fears on the Mind and Body
Zoom into the command centre of the body – the brain; which is picking up all these stress signals. It is preparing for a perceived ‘threat’ for survival. It triggers off adrenaline and cortisol, preparing the muscles for action; starting to pump up the blood faster, diverting blood to the muscles, all in preparation for a ‘fight’ to survive.
Something seems amiss here – right? After all, it is just about a presentation; so why the fear of survival?
Ironically enough, the brain cannot perceive the difference between a physical threat of facing a hungry lion and making a presentation in front of an audience. At times our perceived beliefs, thoughts – rather our internal threats, are more difficult to deal with than a hungry lion.
So our beliefs around having a crucial conversation; or just being able to say ‘No’;or disagreeing with someone up the hierarchy, may actually cause, what is famously known as, the ‘fight-flight’ syndrome.
Studies have shown that the body keeps pumping adrenalin & cortisol, even long after we have felt stressed. Studies also show that the fear of rejection/ failure, which could be at the root of all this stress, is at times chronic and long term.
Our body is simply not designed to handle such long term threats and dangers. Recent studies also indicate that cortisol needs to be quickly dissipated; else it may, over a period of time, lead to effects like:
- High blood pressure
- Muscle fatigue
- Migraine headaches
Here is where Mindful living and Mindfulness can be of help. Neuroscientist Stan Rodski talks about how being Mindful can remove cortisol out of the system and restore the system, so it has a healthy balance of cortisol and dopamine.
In his best seller – The Neuroscience of Mindfulness, he states – “when the brain becomes more relaxed through mindfulness, your system corrects itself and returns to balance”.
So, what is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, for most people, is typically about being more aware of one’s surroundings, being more careful or just more ‘present’. It’s that simple.
However, simplicity in definition does not indicate a lack of depth or precision. Mindfulness meditation is a set of skills that one develops, in order to strengthen one’s attention. So, it is a skill-strengthening activity performed with attention, rather than just being an experimental concept.
For a majority of people, it takes a lot of mindfulness meditation practice to have the experience of true present-moment awareness. However, once it is experienced clearly, the individual’s life gets altered forever. This is truly where one gets the value of laying the foundation for meditative insight and continuing to develop one’s attention skills through practice.
While the benefits of mindful living are many, here is a quick list of how practising the technique, for as less as 10 minutes a day, can lead to benefits* like:
- Recharge your batteries
- Help keep things in perspective, rather than get swayed by them
- Encourages normal emotional and physical healing
- Gives sense of control
- Offers resilience
- Enhances creativity and concentration
(*Source – The neuroscience of mindfulness : Stan Rodski)
How does one practice Mindful Living?
Mindful living and the ways to practice it, have been taught in India and Asia for thousands of years, albeit under different names. Different schools of thought exist on this subject and have been used effectively by learners. Each one comes with a specific purpose and focus area.
One of the methods, now popular across the world, is the concept of Unified Mindfulness. The founder of this concept is Shinzen Young , who describes himself as follows-
“I am a Jewish-American Buddhist teacher who got turned on to comparative mysticism by an Irish – Catholic priest and who has developed a Burmese-Japanese fusion practice inspired by the spirit of quantified science.” – shinzen.org
Mindfulness as a concept is all about being in the present moment. Under the Unified Mindfulness approach, a system which is used by leading institutions like Harvard and Carnegie Mellon for their research on meditation, it boils down to three attentional skills which can be learnt for rewiring the brain for happiness.
These include – Concentration power, Sensory Clarity and Equanimity.
The practice of Unified Mindfulness
Created with over 50 years of research and testing by Shinzen Young, author of ‘The Science of Enlightenment’, the unified mindfulness approach is built with a rigorous precision around concepts and procedures. The reason why the UM practice got selected at Harvard is because of its unique and distinct features, which include:
- 3 attentional skills with infinite applications.
- Customised practice – either as a sitting practice; or during any daily activity like eating or exercising, thereby saving time and even enhancing the activities that one performs.
- Unified Mindfulness covers all major contemplative traditions, thereby honouring all mystical traditions of the world and easily adapts to an individual’s interests and learning style.
- In addition, the practice is designed to facilitate the study of meditation’s effect on human physiology.
Unified Mindfulness as a system is known for the precision that it offers in terms of the instructions, as well as the tremendous flexibility it offers, by making itself adaptable. This application of mindfulness to daily activities, thus goes on to making more and more moments more meditative.
Consistent Unified Mindfulness practice improves the mind’s capacity to heal and develop for everyone in general. More particularly, it is useful for the healing community of counsellors and therapists by:
- Helping them develop a greater capacity for empathy
- Have a present yet calming presence with their clients
- Increase their own tolerance with difficult and painful emotions, so it becomes easier to stay focussed while listening to their clients
Practicing Mindful Living ensures that, whatever be the situation, personal or professional, one is automatically responding with awareness and care.Unified Mindfulness techniques can be a great help in building this strength.
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