Finding Time For Your Mind(fulness!)

I’m really busy at the moment- are you? I have just gone back to University for my second year of my Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology, after a 2-year absence. It feels very strange to be back, studying again, especially whilst I am still working! It feels like there is not enough time in the day and that I need to squeeze a few more hours in somewhere! I know I cannot be the only person who feels this way?

I see a lot of people in my work, who are also feeling stressed and anxious, because it just doesn’t feel like we are working to the best of our ability; it constantly feels like we are missing things out. Do you feel this way too? I am sure it helps to know that you are not the only one!

I have been so busy, it didn’t occur to me that I had stopped my Mindfulness practice, because I had not had time to fit it in to my working day! How ridiculous, I thought and chastised myself for not following my own professional advice! Then I remembered that the key thing, when one is feeling stressed, is to be kind to yourself!

No, I cannot fit everything in to one working day- we’re not supposed to! There is a lot going on in life, and sometimes we need to just take a breath in and slowly breathe out, calming yourself so that you can think in more depth of a solution to what is happening or going on for you. Even if you cant find a solution, taking some moments to relax and breathe will certainly make you feel better!

How do I know this, you may ask? Well, when I took my certificate in Mindfulness, there was a key study that was referenced back to, nearly all the time. Now, if you have read my blog, or know me in any way, then you know that everything I do, in my work, has to come from an evidence base; this means, there needs to be studies, published in peer review journals, that back up what the treatment claims. Now, for mindfulness, there is one study that really shows, just how much mindfulness can help you, in your daily life, not just when you are stressed!

Now, this year, a new study has come out. Backing up previous studies of Mindfulness. (Gotinka et al., 2016) Conducted a study where they compared 21 fMRI studies and 7 MRI scans from people who practised long term meditation, with people who had been on an 8 week program for Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) in a systemic review of the literature that is already in peer reviewed journals.

The studies was consisted of two groups, those who practiced meditation on a long term basis, and those who worked on their MSBR over an 8 week period. For the latter half of the group, their brains were scanned using MRI prior to starting the 8 week program, and then again after the 8 weeks. Two of these studies performed both elements, studying people who meditated on a long-term basis, and those who were on the 8-week program.

The idea was to see if the effect of mindfulness, in the short term, has the same effect as meditation has on people who have been using it in the long term.

What the study found was that practising mindfulness for an 8-week period, gave the same results in the brain as someone who had been meditating for years..

‘. the findings suggest that the 8-week MBSR training evokes similar brain responses to traditional long-term meditation styles. The connectivity between prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and amygdala indicates a neuronal working mechanism of how this secular training induces emotional and behavioral changes.’ (Gotinka et al., 2016) pg. 41

 Ok, I hear you, shaking your head. What does that mean? Well, although the study does have area’s that need to be improved, or researched further, this study tells us that there are measurable changes in various parts of the brain, that help us to regulate our emotions and to regulate our behaviours. In short, practicing mindfulness over an 8 week period, can give us the same emotional changes that longer term meditation does; feeling less stressed, calmer and responding in a more regulated manner.

Essentially, we can all have the inner peace of a Buddhist monk within an 8-week period.. Or can we? There are some limitations of this study, but even if practicing mindfulness every day for 8 weeks will give a little more calm and sense to your life, it seems like a worthwhile prospect.

Even if you are not experiencing any difficulties in your life, practicing Mindfulness on a daily basis will set you in good stead for the future- schools have even been bringing it in to their school day. Sometimes it is called meditation, but it really doesn’t matter what you call it. The idea is to just let yourself be in the present moment. Your mind will wander, and that is ok!

If I asked you NOT think about cute fluffy kittens. How they play, how they run around, how they purr when you tickle them? Etc. It’s not easy, is it? You need to make yourself STOP thinking about them, don’t you? So, now you can see why Mindfulness can be tricky; if you are not trying to think of something, you will always end up thinking of something! The trick is to think of the moment. The air on your face, the sound of the clock ticking, the cramp in your leg from where you are sitting.. these are all things that are in the present moment. This is the nature of mindfulness. To be in the present moment.

So how can mindfulness really help? Well, I started to pay a bit more attention to my practice; instead of rushing it when I had a spare 10 minutes, I started to practice regularly, every evening at 7pm. I only practice for about 10 minutes, but that is all that is needed. A short period of time, giving yourself a calm space to just relax, and afterwards, I am sure you will notice how much more peaceful you feel, and the issues that were there prior to the mindfulness session, may still be there, but there impact on you will be reduced. It does make on think, however, where would one be with regular practice, on a longer-term basis.. I’ve set an alarm on my phone to practice. What about you?

Gotinka, R.A., Meijboomb, R., Vernooija, M.W. and Marion Smitsb, M.G.M.H. (2016) ‘8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice – A systematic review’, Brain and Cognition, vol. 108, October, pp. 32-41.