A psychologist, a neuroscientist, and a meditation practitioner walk into a retreat and...
Did you know that many psychotherapists and psychologists practice mindfulness and meditation?
Makes sense, right?...but I wonder, when did it hit the mainstream so much that it is commonly practiced by mental health practitioners? Has your own attitude towards it changed over the years?
According to this article (Malcolm, 2016) there is a growing body of interest and research into understanding the effects mindfulness and meditation have on mood, mental health, and intimate and extended relationships. It seems that although it has very ancient roots, meditation also has very modern applications.
Below, I outline some interesting facts given by a psychologist and a neuroscientist who participated in a Zen Buddhist retreat recently, and also give you 6 quick tips on bringing yourself into mindfulness in your every day life.
Of course I'm all for mental health professionals taking up meditation, because I can see those applications bringing forth the fruit of good health and well-being in my own life. The more the merrier. Especially for those who are providing psychotherapy or mental health interventions to people who really need it.
How have mindfulness and meditation helped me?
*Most of the time*, I am able to participate in the present moment, without getting caught up in the future or the past - most of the time, I said!
I still love my sleep - regular meditation is said to reduce the need for sleep - but I find myself full of energy and lengthened stamina throughout the day. I rarely have peaks and troughs of energy flow, and I can sustain attention on one task for a long time, allowing me to get more done with less distractions.
In the weeks when I might have some anxiety-inducing events going on, a twenty minute meditation session can bring me closer to a base of normal.
Plus, though I might not be completely myself, I can access deeper and more relaxed breaths and a better engagement with the external world, rather than the darkened, inward-focus of someone who is depressed or anxious.
But that's just me. And that's after quite a few years of practice.
Now though, psychologists and neuroscientists are interested in discussing and exploring the effect long term meditation has on cognition. To do so, a group of professionals and practitioners gathered together for a weekend Zen retreat in the NSW country - lucky! The idea was to learn a little about each other's perspective, with the view to expanding their understanding of meditation and the brain.
One neuroscientist at the retreat, Professor Peter Sedlmeier from the University of Chemnitz in Germany, conducted a large-scale meta-analysis ten years ago of all scientific research conducted on meditation. Here's what he found:
- There are many kinds of meditation techniques from around the world, buddhist observation, yogic pranayama, chakra meditation, or mantra meditation, to name a few.
- All types of meditation are effective, but more research is needed to show the variations of effects from different styles.
- Mantra meditation can be effective in reducing anxiety and this may be because the mantra is a kind of anchor with which someone with anxiety can face their anxiety while still holding the anchor of the mantra, which reassures and gives relief.
- The strongest impact of meditation is on emotion, followed by attention.
- Brain scanning technology is a useful way to measure the effects of meditation, but the results may still be viewed subjectively.
- In a study, a colleague of Sedlmeier found that regular meditators had 'younger' brains than non-meditators, for their biological age.
Emily White is a psychologist and meditation practitioner who also attended the retreat to learn more about zen meditation and discuss the usefulness of meditation in therapy. She uses the practice of mindfulness with people who have can't regulate their emotions well. Mindfulness is at the core of the therapy she provides, along with other psychology-based techniques designed to help a client learn to regulate their own emotions.
According to White, mindfulness is made up of the WHAT skills and the HOW skills:
WHAT - observe your senses, describe what you are experiencing internally and externally, and participate fully in the moment.
HOW - only allow non-judgmental thoughts, do only one thing in the moment, and do it effectively, the best that you can with what you have.
So how can you be more mindful in your every day life? As I've said in past posts, don't be scared off by thinking you will have to don buddhist robes or start chanting. It can be as simple as making a few adjustments to your daily routine or the way you do things. Try it!
The next time you are performing a mundane task, bring your mind fully to the present moment.
Focus on your breath and the feeling of performing your task.
Notice your body, your position, your physical sensations, and twinges or tightness.
Notice your environment, the sounds, the air, the coolness or warmth.
If your mind gets distracted or you start thinking about 'what's next', gently bring it back to your observation.
Try to stay in that state for the next 3-5 minutes. If you finish your task, stay where you are and continue to observe.
Try and do this daily, and notice where in your day you start to 'zone out' or not be fully present in your life. See how it feels to bring more awareness into your 'zone out' times.
As always, I'd love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on this! Like, Comment, and Share please!
Malcolm, L. 2016, Meditation meets neuroscience in All in the Mind, article and podcast, Radio National ABC, accessed 29 April 2016, <https://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/peyQx19PnL?play=true>