There's something ancient and primal that many top athletes, school-aged children, and members of the armed forces have in common. It's a practice that has been around for centuries and is intertwined throughout various religions...
I'm talking about mindfulness and meditation.
Sporting legends Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, former Beatle Paul McCartney, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates all use mindfulness and meditation to calm the mind and finely tune the brain's focus.
Anyone can learn mindfulness and meditation practices. Whether you'd like to lower your stress levels, focus on a new project or goal, or replace negative thoughts with more positive and productive ones, meditation and mindfulness are your tools for success.
Turns out, these two techniques are so effective that studies have shown them to be as helpful (if not more) as taking prescription drugs for depression and anxiety. And because many people don't respond to medication, or they develop serious, unwanted side effects, mindfulness and meditation offer a risk-free treatment to cure much of what ails you.
And all this could be yours in just 10 minutes or less a day. It takes you longer to shower, dress, and eat breakfast in the morning than it does to help your mind naturally access a more blissful and satisfied state.
Now, while mindfulness and meditation are similar, they are not the same thing...
Mindfulness is a mental activity, whereas meditation is both a mental and a physical activity.
Today, let's take a deep dive into the concepts of mindfulness and meditation. I'll tell you what they are, how to do them, and why you're going to want to use both mindfulness and meditation to start living your best life...
Mindfulness is the ability to be present and aware in the current moment. The goal of mindfulness is to awaken our mental, emotional, and physical processes.
Mindfulness is critical to our well-being. A 2010 Harvard study found that people spend about half of their time thinking about things other than what they're doing right then.
And with the prevalence of technology these days, now more than ever, it's time to practice staying in the moment. A 2021 survey found that Americans spend nearly six hours a day on their phones for things that are not work related. Add using a computer at work all day and that's 14 hours of a 24-hour day. If you sleep eight hours, that's just two hours away from screens each day.
Practicing mindfulness strengthens your ability to focus on what's right in front of you.
Mindfulness practices have been around for centuries, with deep roots in many major religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and within yoga techniques...
Religions often utilize mindfulness as a way to connect oneself with the spiritual realm.
In yoga, doing the body scan activity is a mindfulness technique. The body scan asks you to mentally check in with your body – starting with your feet and gradually moving all the way up to your head. While doing so, your aim is to notice and let go of any tension that you're holding in your body.
Performing a body scan is a physical form of mindfulness. Other physical mindfulness techniques include...
Walking Meditation – Walk in a quiet place while focusing on the experience of walking. Become aware of the sensations of your feet connecting to the ground and the subtle movements you make to help you keep your balance. At some point in your walk, turn around. Notice all the muscles that engage and all the physical feelings you experience during your rotation.
Object Mindfulness – Pick up an object or a food. Pretend that this object is one that you've never seen before. Examine how the object feels, smells, sounds, and even tastes. Can this object be manipulated with your hands? Bring your mind into the moment by focusing only on that object.
Five Senses Exercise – Notice the things you are experiencing with each of your five senses:
- Notice five things that you can see
- Notice four things that you can feel
- Notice three things that you can hear
- Notice two things that you can smell
- Notice one thing that you can taste
Taking an inventory of how your body feels is an important practice. So much of our lives is lived inside our processing minds. And when we're always living in our heads, it's easy to disconnect from – and therefore neglect – our bodies. Checking in makes a big difference.
In 1979, molecular biologist Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn created a mindfulness-based stress reduction ("MBSR") program. Kabat-Zinn studied Zen Buddhism in the late 1960s under notable teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh. Nhat Hanh is widely considered the "Father of Mindfulness.
From his training, MBSR and the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts emerged. As an eight-week course, MBSR translates mindfulness into a scientific construct, from a once-religious one, aimed at helping people cope with stress and pain.
And a group at Harvard University developed an eight-week program based off of Kabat-Zinn's work. Their mission was to develop a way for the community to cope with stress, chronic pain, and other ailments. Since its development in 2012, more than 750 students have utilized the mindfulness programs offered in the Harvard wellness center.
In 2016, an Austrian medical university ran a study on yoga practitioners. Researchers found that the participants who regularly practice yoga had lower rates of psychiatric ailments (like depression) and higher levels of mindfulness.
Today, mindfulness is used by schools, prisons, sports teams, and even the U.S. Army to help people build resilience to life's challenges. Some of these uses include behavior modifications, managing post-traumatic stress disorder, and visualizing success.
In a military context, mindfulness helps soldiers in training stay safe and learn new tactics for battle, helps fighters improve their memory and recall, and helps service members build stronger relationships with their friends and family.
Practicing mindfulness also helps people manage stress during intense situations, stay focused on the task at hand, restore their energy, and recover from any physical or mental injury. So knowing how to calm your mind in the heat of a life-threatening moment is a useful tool.
Mindfulness is so effective because it interacts with and actually changes the brain's limbic system (made up of the hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and limbic cortex), which controls our behavior and emotions. And these changes will effectively alter our attention and emotion.
Science tells us that mindfulness practice can impact both mental and physical conditions. As a much safer alternative to commonly prescribed drugs, we can experience relief through mindfulness for a number of ailments, like...
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Getting relief without the use of drugs is both safer and more empowering. Having a positive impact on your own health and well-being through mindfulness is an incredible strength.
Do what I do... Use meditation and breathing as a way to clear your mind and try to be aware of the moment.
What We're Reading...
- A history of mindfulness.
- Three mindfulness exercises to get you started.
- Something different: When a natural disaster hits, structural engineers learn from the destruction.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
October 12, 2021