What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is our ability to become fully present and aware of our thoughts, emotions, and physical wellbeing. When we are mindful, we free ourselves from judgment and over reactivity to our surrounding environment. The seven attributes of mindfulness are the stepping stones to become intentional to attention. We all possess the proper tools to become mindful, but through daily practice and meditation, are we able to implement this into our daily lives with ease. With persistent mindfulness practice, we can reshape our minds, diving deep into our subconscious.
The easiest way to understand the power of mindfulness is to visualize Freud’s Iceberg Theory on the three levels of the mind. The three levels are the conscious mind, preconscious mind, and the unconscious mind.
The conscious mind consists of the thoughts and perceptions we are aware of fully. The memories and stored knowledge we call on intermittently are part of the preconscious mind. This level takes more recall than the conscious mind. Lastly, the third level consists of all things we keep hidden away; violent behaviors, unacceptable sexual desires, fears, selfish needs, shameful experiences, etc. Your unconscious mind holds all your deepest darkest secrets; these topics you most likely wouldn’t bring up in casual conversation. The issue with our unconscious mind is that many things we hid away here, we do so unknowingly. We have built up anxiety and fear over things we can’t accurately pinpoint, making it difficult to overcome. Mindfulness meditation helps bring these thoughts and emotions to light, providing awareness to the deeper parts of our mind.
Why mindfulness meditation?
Meditation is a way to clarify and cleanse your mind. This practice helps bring order to chaos; this chaos our wandering thoughts cause us regularly and sometimes unknowingly if we aren’t careful. The goal of meditation is to relax and formulate an awareness of your body and mind. The purpose of meditation is to initiate the opposite of the fight or flight response. Dr. Herbert Benson, the founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, developed the term “relaxation response“. Benson describes the relaxation response as “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical, emotional responses to stress”.
When we are under stress or anxious, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. Our body equips itself to combat an incoming threat or danger. So what happens when we are chronically under stress? When we are unfamiliar with the condition of our mind and body, we are tense, on edge and anxious. Our sympathetic nervous system is never entirely switched off, leading to high levels of cortisol, our body’s stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. Long term effects of high cortisol levels include changes in energy level, weight gain, high blood pressure, irregular sleep patterns, and mood disruptions.
Practicing mindfulness resembles many shapes and forms. Body scans are a way to bring awareness intentionally to your body and mind. Through meditation, we venture into the inner workings of our psyche. We become cognizant of certain sensations (smells, touch, sounds) emotions (sadness, happiness, stress, anger) and thoughts (reminiscing on a recent experience).
Let’s get started …
Meditation is a space of relaxation, peace, and non-judgment. Below are simple steps to begin body scan meditations.
First, you want to get comfortable, either lying down or sitting.
Start breathing slowly, paying close attention to your inhales and exhales. Focus on taking deep breaths while expanding, and contracting your abdomen.
Now bring attention to your lower extremities, starting with your feet. Be aware of any sensations of pain or discomfort. Be with that sensation. Acknowledge any thoughts that arise—practice non-judgment and breathe through it. Continue scanning your body. Navigate through your abdomen, chest, neck, back, and upper extremities. Be kind to any interfering thoughts that arise. Pay attention to any tension that occurs through your body. Were you aware of the stress in your shoulders, back, and or neck? Once you reach the top of your head, take a few more deep breaths before closing.
This practice can be done multiple times throughout the day for an abbreviated amount of time. You control the extent of your meditation period. For more structured guided meditations, check out the Headspace app.
Body scan meditation promotes mental awareness and increased alertness. Try a body scan during a long work or school day to recenter and enhance cognitive performance.
Leave a comment below and share your short and long term meditation outcomes. I would love to hear about your mindfulness journey!