You would have heard the word ‘mindfulness’ being tossed around in conversations and print ever so often, especially in the current scenario, when stress and anxiety levels are at their peak. While some of us may understand the essence of ‘being mindful’, others may only have a vague idea about what it essentially implies.
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Simply put, mindfulness speaks of intentionally observing and being aware of what is happening within or around us ‘in the present moment’, without passing any judgement, good or bad. It trains our minds to reach a place of peace and calm by attempting to bring a positive shift in our thought process and belief system. Mindfulness helps us become more ‘present’ in our lives rather than stressing over what happened in the past or what may happen in the future. Being mindful also helps us develop a deeper and more authentic relationship with ourselves. It is critical because the relationship we have with our own selves sets the tone for every other relationship we have in our lives.
But we need to become self-aware first in order to have a fulfilling relationship with ourselves. !This is precisely what practising mindfulness helps us achieve. Mindfulness helps us become aware of our emotions and thoughts when they surface. This self-awareness then allows the emotions and thoughts to pass through us after we process them with kindness without indulging them. It is especially very helpful in the case of thoughts and emotions that have been causing us distress.
Mindfulness tools are very powerful and vital for our overall well-being because they help us regulate our internal chemistry and prod us towards self-healing. While they start by helping us release stress and anxiety (emotional and mental well-being), they can eventually help us heal our illnesses too (physical well-being) since there is an intimate connection between our mental, emotional and physical health. For instance, stress can cause psychosomatic issues such as poor sleep, weak digestion, lowered immunity and shoulder pain, as explained in the previous chapter.
When faced with stressful situations, our sympathetic nervous system takes over our brain by elevating blood pressure, accelerating our pulse, quickening our breathing and releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. It is our parasympathetic nervous system that puts a brake on this turn of events to transport us back to a state of relaxation.
This has been called ‘The Relaxation Response’ by Dr Herbert Benson, the famous mind/body medicine professor from Harvard Medical School, in his book titled The Relaxation Response. During this state of relaxation, the body moves to a state of deep rest, which can help us change our physiological and psychological responses to stress in positive ways. When the body no longer senses any threat to its well-being and feels safe, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and the nervous system relaxes again, providing the much-needed respite from stress and anxiety.
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Mindfulness rituals are not one-time wonders though. For any mindfulness approach to bear concrete results, we need to remember a few things:
Excerpted with permission from Unfetter: Heal Your Mind, Body and Spirit by Tanuja Sodhi published by Rupa Publications