Mindfulness – The creation of greater self awareness & appreciation

Congratulations on completing your 1st month’s challenge going ‘Wheat-Free‘!

For the 2nd month, we are introducing the ‘Mindfulness’ challenge. Now, just how mindful can you be for the next 21 days? “Piece of cake” you might think to yourself. Well, we challenge you to be perfectly mindful on the 3 themes that we will be presenting to you over the next 3 weeks. 1 theme per week with mini-challenges being held everyday.

Hopefully this challenge will serve to create greater self awareness and appreciation for you.
Now ask yourself, how often have you caught yourself going through life so focused on getting things done, going places, ruminating about the past, planning your next step in life, worrying about the future, that you have forgotten why you were even engaged in what you were doing or why you never noticed your body crying for the attention it needed before it was too late?

Do you remember the last time you woke up and lay there before getting out of bed to appreciate the wonder of good health? Most of us would probably answer: “barely ever”. Because commonly, our first morning thoughts consist of the ‘hamster wheel’ effect around all the noise and chatter in our heads: what needs to get done, what didn’t get done and so on. This is where being more ‘Mindful’ or being more self-aware would be beneficial to us as well as those around us.

What is Mindfulness?

A path towards understanding one’s needs, passions, values and purpose, is through learning “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is the art of being fully aware in the present moment. Being mindful helps us remove ourselves from that vicious cycle of living in your head – where we are constantly mulling over the “what ifs” and “should haves” – and instead puts us in a state of presence. Rather than being caught up with constantly meeting obstacles head-on or attempting to avoid them with strategic distractions, mindfulness teaches us acceptance and acknowledgement.

To create change in your life, a state of pause, contemplation and acceptance has to occur.

With mindfulness-based practice we learn to become an objective observer to situations we encounter. This removes the narrow outlook we would otherwise have and instead provides us with greater clarity and insight by placing us in a more unique and able position to appreciate and deal with life’s many trials and tribulations.

Mindfulness cultivates greater self awareness through observation of our thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. With an enhanced self awareness, we can typically learn to alter our responses to stress and negative life experiences. The amygdala (a portion of the limbic system in the brain which supports a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, motivation and long-term memory) assists with vigilance and is typically activated in response to stressful stimuli or situations. This area of the limbic system is hyper-aroused in by certain circumstances, especially in cases of Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD).

However, it has been found that during meditative states the amygdala does not calm down, but rather counterintuitively, it has been shown to be activated. This might explain the heightened awareness experienced during mindfulness-based practices.

A study by Frewen et al found that higher levels of mindfulness correlated with fewer automatic negative thoughts.

A lot of negativity and unhappiness in life stems from our creation of an ideal and that creates a gap between where we are right NOW and where we want to be. We get so caught up with wanting to fill that gap that we forget how to LIVE.

Gradually, we lose focus of ourselves, growing unhappier and more resentful as we strive harder and harder to fill that gap of ’emptiness’. We lose sight of the important things that matter, relationships suffer and eventually so does our mental-emotional and physical health.

Mental-emotional health is a huge multi-billion dollar industry, with ‘Big Pharma’ churning out more reasons to be on antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety drugs. Sure, physiological neurotransmitter imbalances do exist but the huge dependence on such drugs is becoming epidemic.

If we address the source of the problem, dependence to drugs can be avoided. We can actually help stop and reverse the debilitating effects of anxiety, depression and other mental-emotional disorders with a more mindful approach to life.

How do I create more self-awareness?

Simply put, attention is focused awareness. Therefore if we can bring more attention into our everyday life, we will be creating more self-awareness and mindfulness. Paying attention to what you eat, how you breathe, how you conduct yourself to others, how you react to situations, how you express your thoughts, your body language, how you speak to yourself and to others, how your body feels and what your body is saying to you.

In this day and age where chronic stress is rampant in all our lives, we are never allowed to fully reach a parasympathetic state (opposite of the modern domination of the sympathetic “fight or flight” state), instead it is as if we spend our whole lives in fight or flight – as if we’re being chased by a bear and must run for our lives. Mounds of research support the idea that it is partially because our sympathetic nervous system switch is chronically in the ‘on’ mode, that our society is plagued with a multitude of health concerns in this modern world: cancer, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, obesity, chronic pain, digestive problems, inflammatory conditions and the list goes on.

Stress has been shown to reduce neurogenesis (birth of neurons) in the hippocampus (the portion of the brain associated with memory), thereby leading to memory impairment. Prolonged periods of elevated levels of cortisol, produced by your adrenal glands during times of stress, have been shown to contribute to visceral adiposity (fat deposition around our organs), metabolic syndrome (a triad of pre-diabetes, cardiovascular disease and weight loss resistance) and osteoporosis amongst other things.

Letting go of tension can be uncomfortable if the individual has never learnt how to fully relax. Many people struggle with meditation and other such mindfulness-based practices because of the degree of discomfort they experience as they enter territory that is largely unknown to them.

For many, holding on to tension becomes so second nature that it can be a little frightening as they enter an unfamiliar parasympathetic state, relinquishing that constant need for control.
This may cause them to feel fearful, vulnerable and unprotected as it can feel like they are having to let their guard down. A good starting place for individuals who find it hard to relax, is to perform a progressive muscle relaxation exercise – a practice of working through the muscles of the body, contracting a muscle for a few seconds and then relaxing it, working from head to toe. Consciously contracting a muscle and then relaxing it, helps to bring one’s awareness to the body and also to areas of tension or discomfort which the individual might never have noticed before.
For individuals who still struggle with creating bodily awareness even after conscious breathing practice or progressive muscle relaxation exercises, they might be inspired to try out biofeedback therapy as it trains one to relax but still be able to exert control over their body.

Keep in mind that we are all born with the innate ability to be mindful and present, but it can be quickly and easily forgotten, buried deep within our subconscious. With a little effort, a commitment to the practice of mindfulness and the right guidance, you CAN learn to connect with your inner self again and feel liberated, empowered, joyful, happy and loved.
Are you prepared for the transformation? Then join us on this next challenge! We’re exciting to share in your journey.

Resources

Loving What Is‘ – by Byron Katie
‘The Power of Now’ – by Eckhart Tolle
The Biology of Belief‘ – by Bruce Lipton
The Little Book of Stress Relief‘ – by David Posen

References
Hamiel, D. (2005). Children under stress and trauma. The Use of Biofeedback, Cognitive Behavioral Techniques, and Mindfulness for Integrated and Balanced Coping. Biofeedback. 149-52.
Tobias, E. et al. (2004). Meditation and limbic processes. Biofeedback.
Frewen PA. et al. Letting go: Mindfulness and negative automatic thinking. Cognitive Therapy & Research. 2007;32:758–774.
Chrousus, G. The role of stress and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the pathogenesis of the metabolic syndrome: neuro-endocrine and target tissue-related causes. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Jun;24 Suppl 2:S50-5.

 

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