MINDFULNESS-PILATES FOR THE BRAIN
What is Mindfulness
We are “mindful” that this is Mental Health Awareness Week and for this post we wanted to focus on a brief insight to mindfulness and its benefits which we’ve called ‘Mindfulness- Pilates For The Brain’……which seems apt under the circumstances. This post is based on our own personal experiences of Mindfulness and the experience of working with clients who utilise it in their recovery. We hope you will enjoy this and find it useful.
“Mindfulness” has become a buzzword and is seems to be everywhere at the moment, from the press, to social media, TV, radio etc. Mindfulness has been accepted by NICE as their preferred intervention with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for assisting with anxiety and depression – see NICE for more information. The more we hear about it, the more daunting it can appear but mindfulness is more basic than many of us think it is. What’s more, there’s no wrong way of practising ‘being mindful’. Mindfulness is about being aware and being in the present moment -rather than being embroiled in thoughts about past situations or future situations, or as often is the case – involved in the ever-seductive inner mental chatter we can all easily fall prey to.
To put ourselves in a mindful state is relatively easy: it’s about:
- Observing what we are thinking about / our thoughts and trying to maintain that awareness
- Avoiding getting entangled by the thoughts no matter how easy it is to do so- (a good tip is to label the thoughts as they appear e.g. “ah that’s planning”/criticising/ worrying” etc. – rather than actually becoming involved in the mental inner chatter
The Wandering Mind
The thing you will notice if you try this, is that for the first 10-20-30 seconds, it’s ok. Then inadvertently something will happen and the mind will do its own thing…….and simply wander! You may catch yourself suddenly becoming aware that you are now re-living an angry conversation with someone; or maybe you’re planning what you want to say at an important future meeting; you may even be thinking about what you need to do on the way home from work.
The mind wanders…. that’s what it does. In this wandering state, we can lose sight of what is happening in the moment, and instead get caught up in thought patterns which can be unhelpful e.g. that angry conversation you had.
Unhelpful Thinking Patterns
As a result, we can end up ruminating or berating ourselves- ‘why didn’t I say that?’…or ‘why am I so stupid?’ and even catastrophising- ‘I’ll can’t do this and then I’ll end never get that promotion!’.
Many of us are so caught up in what we are thinking that we fail to notice what is really happening in the moment. That means that we stop taking ‘reality checks- i.e. what’s real as opposed to what’s perceived. We can easily start believing our own thoughts. We’ll all be familiar with the phrase ‘you become what you think most’.
Taking a reality check can be even harder when we’re feeling anxious or depressed or stressed. Anxiety creates a state of ‘FIGHT’ or ‘FLIGHT’ and before we know it, our body is responding to the chemicals which the brain is sending around our bodies.
Mental Health Awareness and Wellbeing Practices
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and May is also Mental Health Awareness month. The last few months particularly have seen a lot of media attention on the work of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They, and many other individuals in the media, and from every day walks of life who have been sharing stories about the effect of life events on their mental health.
Mental Health difficulties can affect anyone, at any time of their life – irrespective of race, colour, sex, status- rich or poor, or how successful or otherwise you may outwardly appear. It is indiscriminate in this respect. Many affected individual’s feel alone and blame themselves but there are many sources of support out there including MIND, Samaritans, GPs and many other groups.
There are also lots of things we can do to help ourselves including exercise, healthy eating and drinking, socialising, learning new skills and hobbies, yoga, and mediation / mindfulness.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
There are many including;
- Re-wiring your brain to think differently – e.g. more positively (it’s all about Neuroplasticity- see below)
- Reduced anxiety
- Less likelihood of becoming depressed or relapsing
- Increases positive emotions and decreases negative emotions
- Reduces chronic pan
- Reduces migraines
- Decreased PTSD
- Increases our Grey Matter – we become more able to learn better!
- Increases concentration
Using Mindfulness and Meditation to Remain Mentally Healthy
Mindfulness takes practice- and this is where meditation comes in. Regular 10 minute practices can really help you to become aware / become more mindful and become even more aware of the fact that you are not being mindful.
Research has shown many permanent and long lasting effects of mindfulness including the ability to re-shape our way of thinking. Based on the concepts of neuroplasticity, it’s understood that neurons that fire together wire together. That means the brain gets better at doing the things it does most often (both good and bad). So, if you want to practice being more positive or assertive- research shows with practice that you can change. The same with mindfulness and meditation. The more we practice the easier we will find it to become mindful and the more satisfying we will find the experience.
Useful apps which we find beneficial include Headspace and Whil.
We all get stuck in patterns of habitual thinking and unhelpful behaviours from time to time. Mindfulness can help us become less prone to poor mental health and it provides us with a chance to step out, press the pause button and give yourself a clean start. The next time you find yourself dwelling – stop, breathe and notice what you’re thinking about.