HOW MINDFULNESS WORKS
Mindfulness teaches us to pause. By taking a moment to assess what's happening in the here and now, we can make more thoughtful decisions about what to do next. When we learn to pay attention to what is happening in our bodies, minds and hearts we can respond to the world around us rather than be reactive or impulsive.
We are thinking, feeling beings. Our thoughts and feelings are working with and around one another all the time. Chemicals in our brains are released when we feel emotions. When we are confronted with intense emotions like fear, anxiety, stress, or anger (or even love, attraction or excitement) we sometimes react impulsively, instinctively and/or irrationally. Have you ever yelled at a driver when they cut you off in traffic? Do you get "stuck" in thinking about what did or will happen? Have you regretted something you said or did? Each of these examples shows how the brain is at work. These strong reactions can even keep us from learning. It's difficult to learn when your brain is busy protecting itself! Mindfulness helps to regulate these chemicals and allows us to be less reactive and more responsive. Through mindfulness practice we learn that even in the face of life's circumstances and uncertainties, we have an inner resource of stillness.
The foundation of mindfulness is paying attention to your breath. How convenient! It is always with you, and you can't stop yourself from doing it! By breathing, you can decrease your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and increase your focus. A simple inhalation and exhalation can bring immediate relief to your body, mind and heart! In mindfulness practice, you can pay attention to any daily activity - eating, walking, listening, etc.
Are meditation and mindfulness the same thing? Meditation is to mindfulness like lifting weights is to an athlete's training plan. Meditation is a way to practice mindfulness so that it can be applied to other situations. Just as athletes become stronger by lifting weights, people who meditate strengthen their ability to focus and bring mindfulness to everyday circumstances.
Meditation is the practice of paying attention to breathing and sensations and thoughts...and not reacting to them. Some meditation practices highlight staying focused on one thing, like your breath, and paying attention to when your mind wanders from that focal point. Other practices emphasize "simply" observing the thoughts and feelings that arise without judging them or getting caught up in them. It is the moments of redirecting your attention back to your breath, or objectively observing that ARE mindfulness. The desired outcome is that our brains can be trained to be less reactive in a wide variety of settings.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and freedom.
-Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning