Mary Oliver, one of my favourite poets says this…..In this universe we are given 2 gifts…..the ability to love….and the ability to ask questions.
A question is often more valuable than an answer as it stimulates discussion, it ignites the fire of our imaginations, and leads us forward. Let me know your questions and I will publish a “Question of the Month” in each newsletter.
This month’s most popular questions asked: “Every time I meditate, I get very sleepy….Is there anything I can do?”
The first thing to know is that sleepiness while meditating is very common. It could be that you are sleep deprived and it may be that you are just tired because of this. You may want to have a quick nap!
Second, it is important to realize that mindfulness meditation involves waking the mind and body! We want to be more present rather than less aware. If you find yourself getting very sleepy, try opening your eyes while you meditate. This will help you to stay awake!
Another way to counteract sleep is to bring an attitude of greater curiosity to the object of your meditation ie the breath. There may be a tendency for the mind to become bored as you concentrate on each breath, breath by breath. Once this mind state is recognized, it is possible to generate an attitude of curiosity whereby each breath is taken as a unique event and worthy of our full attention.
What about you? What do you find helpful? Let me know through email@example.com
In the April newsletter, I listed 6 reasons why mindfulness matters.
Today, I would like to share with you some research on the first reason taken from last months list: Mindfulness Improves One’s Ability to Regulate Emotions
Research has found….
MIndfulness has been shown in the research to stimulate the part of the brain that is associated with positive emotions, the left prefrontal cortex.
Here is the background…..
The experience of emotion is part of the human experience. Some are pleasant, like contentment, joy and excitement. Others are usually considered “unpleasant”. Examples include fear, guilt, loss among others.
It is well documented in brain research that part of our ability to regulate our emotions is found in the balance of electrical activity between the left and right prefrontal cortex of our brain. All of us tend to have greater electrical activity in either the left or right prefrontal cortex. Studies have shown that individuals with greater left side activity tend to have more positive emotions whereas greater right side activity is associated with negative emotions like anxiety, depression, and anger.
Dr. Richard Davidson, author of the recent book “The Emotional Life of Your Brain”, found in his research that regular mindfulness practice over an 8 week mindfulness course produced significantly greater stimulation of the left side versus the right. This finding was found to be consistent even when the research participants were experiencing a stressful stimulus.
Here is why mindfulness matters….
I don’t know about you, I will take the experience of positive emotions any time over the negative emotions. It is important to understand that mindfulness doesn’t get rid of negative emotions, it is simply correlated with more positive emotional states.
One way or the other, this sounds like something I would like to work towards!
The link is found in the science of both the human and animal world. It is the capacity and need for rest in order to maintain optimal health.
Stress expert Robert Sapolsky writes in his book,“Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”, that when we experience demands and challenges, our bodies turn on the same response mechanism as animals. He argues that the animal world is able to automatically turn off this mechanism after a challenge and return to a state of rest.
For example, zebras rest following a stressful event. They know how to do this. It is automatic. It goes something like this….zebras grazing peacefully….lion appears looking for lunch….zebras accelerate instantaneously to full flight….lion disappears….zebras return to grazing peacefully, naturally conserving energy. No one needs to remind them to rest.
For humans, muscles rest following the stress of a workout. The rest is needed for your muscles to get stronger. Your muscles knows how to do this. It is automatic. It goes something like this….workout is over….a period of physical rest follows….the muscles recover and become stronger. Sometimes, we need to be reminded to rest.
Our minds need to rest following the stress of challenge. Unfortunately, it is not always automatic. It may go something like this….stress occurs….we respond to meet the demand…another stress occurs…and before you know it, resting the mind can become extremely elusive. We want to rest the mind and yet, we may not know how.
Muscles, minds, and zebras need to rest to maintain health and wellbeing. While the physical fitness may help calm your mind, it may not be enou
Interested? If so, read on…..
I learned about my mind’s ability to rest and physical fitness though personal experience. Many years ago, I started a fitness regime in response to a prolonged period of stress and, let me tell you, I was stressed out! I found the almost daily fitness helped to boost my energy and to significantly reduce the unwelcome stress symptoms. At the same time, I was driven as it felt like I needed physical activity every day to stay in balance and to keep “my lions” at rest.
This feeling of being driven went on for many years. At the same time, I often felt like
”I was hanging on by my fingernails!” Do you know the feeling? Without the exercise, it seemed like I would be overtaken by stress. What I eventually learned is that while my body was strong, flexible, and fit, it wasn’t enough to be in balance as I was unaware of the workings of my mind and how mental activity contributed to my unease. My muscles could rest, however, my mind was another story!
I learned that stress is not the problem. Everyone is stressed! The problem is that we are not like the zebras….many of us don’t have the capacity to calm and recover after the experience of stress. Physical fitness is vital, however, it may not be enough.
One of the most important things to know about stress is that occurs as a result of how you react both in the mind and body, often automatically, to pressures and demands. This response is a learned process and over time we do our best to adapt. A second important fact about stress…very often there is a perception of a “threat” that stimulates the experience of stress. Our experience of threat stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to pour energy into the body to meet the demand. Over activation of this response will eventually create havoc in our minds and body.
The extent to which we are aware of our stress reactivity will vary among individuals. If you are like me, I was largely unaware including both the physical and mind reactions. Physical fitness helped me to deal with the physical which is also know to help the mind to feel better. In the meantime, my mind had a life of its own. Perhaps you know some of the mind’s stress symptoms: anxiety, panic, low mood, trouble concentrating among others. I did’t want to be aware of them. One day, they became too powerful and I couldn’t ignore them.
Twenty years ago, I started a mindfulness practice. It became a major link for me to discover how to find some rest in my mind.
The mindfulness practice became my way of directly learning and understanding my mind’s activity. The approach I used was called “Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction”, an educational approach that cultivates an inner capacity for mindfulness as a resource to promote rest and relaxation, to see problems more clearly, and to choose wise action to address the challenges among many other evidenced-based benefits.
Operationally, mindfulness is defined as the awareness that comes from paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally to our present moment experience. Because of the propensity of the mind to wander, meditation is used to focus the mind. In the process of focusing and concentration, one starts to become very familiar with the mind’s reactivity.
Mindfulness facilitates knowing these reactions with full awareness. Once known, our capacity for mindfulness is used as a resource to deal with reactivity from a place of calmness, stillness, and equanimity.
Learning about the mind demands commitment, courage, and determination. The effort is worth it and in the last 20 years, there is an increasing volume of scientific research providing evidence of the effectiveness of a mindfulness practice for maintaining health and wellbeing. Consider a mindfulness practice to complement your fitness regime and let the mind and body work together to find balance, strength, health, and sweet rest. Ahhhhhhhh
This practice is called STOP and Take a Breathing Space. This exercise comes from an excellent book called the MBSR Handbook. It is one of the resources for this month listed under Featured Resources in this newsletter.
STOP and Take a Breathing Space can be applied informally at any time in your day. You can do this at work, in the home, with your friends….really….try it anywhere. The process involves paying attention to your inner experience. Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to this as our inner landscape and can include physical sensations, thoughts, and/or emotions.
By connecting directly with your experience, it may provide a greater sense of how the day is going for you and what action might be most appropriate now in your day.
STOP is an acronym. It will help you to remember the steps that are involved.
S – STOP
T – Take a breath
O – Observe
P – Proceed.
Here is how to practice.
S – STOP
- Physically become still whether standing or sitting. You could do this at the photocopier at work or simply sitting in chair at home. No one needs to know that you are doing this. It happens because of your intention to become still for a few moments.
T – Take a breath
- Take 2 or 3 intentional breaths preferable through the nose. Gently inhale your breath and then let it go with a spirit of release and relief
- You can do this more times is you have time
O – Observe
- Ask yourself as you sense your inner landscape, “What is here?” and/or “What is going on inside me now?”
- Notice the characteristics of the experience: Is it physical, a thought, or an emotion, or maybe it is a combination of these experiences (For example, with a physical sensation, you might silently say to to your self “tight, tight, tight” with your awareness resting on the physical location where you feel the tightness)
- Inwardly, see if you can create a sense of spaciousness for the experience
- Bring an attitude of acceptance and compassion for what you are sensing.
P – Proceed
- ask yourself “What is called for now?” or “What is the next task in my day?” and then move on to your next action. The idea is that what you have observed in the previous step may help you to make better choice for yourself.
1. Improves one’s ability to regulate emotions.
2. Cultivates a way of “being” for ourselves that is consistent with how we
3. Helps to illuminate our motives when we take action
4. Mindfulness helps to balance thinking other sources of intelligence i.e.
emotions and body sensations
5. Improves interpersonal communication through becoming a better
6. Helps us to recognize and challenge our perceptions of challenges
“Why Mindfulness Matters” in the book “The Mindfulness Revolution” edited by Barry Boyce.