What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about noticing. Noticing your breathing. Noticing how your emotions manifest in your body. “The essence of mindfulness is just tolerating experiencing sensations that come into your body, other than trying to get them to stop immediately,” Jeff Bostic, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Georgetown University, says.
You can think of mindfulness as state of mind, an ability, and a practice. It can be traced all the way back to the early teachings of Buddhism (though it’s not exclusive to Buddhism). There are many different mindfulness exercises to achieve this state: from paying attention to the sound of ringing bells to visualising foods and smells. Other exercises gently encourage us to acknowledge what makes us fearful and anxious and accept that these emotions are just a normal part of life.
Mindfulness has an immediate intuitive appeal in a world that’s more distracting and fast-moving than ever before. It’s now taught in hospitals and schools.
Researchers from fields ranging from neuroscience to psychiatry have been fascinated by it too. According to Bostic, mindfulness attenuates the more evolutionarily primitive areas of our brains — the amygdala, the brain stem, etc. — the areas that provoke us to fight, be frightened, or flee, and turn up activation in our frontal lobes, the reasoning center. “The one fundamental concept that’s shared by all the branches of mindfulness practice is the awareness that you accept sensations ... and that you can make sense of what triggered them,” he says.
Mindfulness is thought to have wide-ranging effects, from lessening depressive symptoms to reducing anxiety and helping to deal with chronic pain and trauma. There are studies that find mindfulness reduces the levels of the stress hormone, Cortizol. Neuroimaging studies have shown increases of brain matter density in regions linked to learning and memory and some behavioural studies found that it increased the working memory and decreases in mind from wandering. All useful in the classroom.