Mindfulness

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What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an approach that is about being fully present in, aware of and attentive to what is going in the present moment, without filters.

"Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally" - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is the teaching of being consciously present in the ongoing moment. Mindfulness practice develops attention, awareness, compassion and the ability to face reality as it is, with ease and acceptance.

Through mindfulness practice, self-awareness and insight is developed by practice in paying attention to each moment by being present with our thoughts, emotions, impulses, reactions and physical sensations and understanding how they affect each other.

Image by Syed F Hashemi

Why Mindfulness?

Today we live in a health-conscious society, while at the same time, this creates challenging circumstances for us individuals. Social structures that support basic human needs such as sleep, rest, recovery and community have diminished which entails a greater responsibility on us individuals to maintain good health and a balanced life.

Our lives are today often characterized by high demands, a high pace, constant change and a constant flow of information which affects us as human beings. Stress of various factors is for many of us, regardless of age and life situation, an ever-present companion.

Through mindfulness, we learn stress management and to face reality as it is. We develop an inner stability and learn to focus on what is important right now. We learn to be aware of what we can and cannot influence and we develop an ability to let go of what is beyond our control. We then discover that we have more choices than we were previously aware of and our ability to make more healthy conscious choices increases.

Through mindfulness practice, we increase present moment internal and external awareness. This helps us to consciously respond to physical, mental and emotional challenges we may face in our private lives or at work, without being overwhelmed or emptying our energy levels.

Mindfulness practice also increases our ability to take advantage of and appreciate moments in our daily lives that otherwise easily pass by, which in turn also gives us strength and energy to handle difficulties and challenging life circumstances.

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Effects of Mindfulness

Thanks to research, we now have evidence for mindfulness and its effects. Hundreds of studies about mindfulness are published every year, where different areas have been investigated in how mindfulness practice affects humans and our well-being. Below are some examples of documented effects of mindfulness training.

  • Reduced stress and increased tolerance to stress - lower release of the stress hormone cortisol and the cortisol levels drop faster in the evening.

  • Improved sleep quality

  • Lower blood pressure

  • More efficient immune system - stronger immune response

  • Reduced anxiety and less worry

  • Reduced risk of relapse in depression

  • Increased emotion regulation

  • Increased ability to handle changes and misfortunes

  • Increased focus, ability to concentrate and working memory

  • Increased creativity and productivity

  • Better relationships and fewer conflicts

  • Reduced focus on negative aspects of life and increased focus on positive ones

  • Deeper self-insight

  • Deeper compassion for oneself and others

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Mindfulness and the brain

During every moment of our lives, the brain and the nervous system renews and changes constantly. This is called neuroplasticity.

Through modern neurology research, we have begun to understand how mindfulness works on a neuropsychological and -physiological level. Neurology research shows that training in mindfulness creates positive changes in the brain function and structure, providing strong connection between these changes and how we experience our health and ourselves.

What we pay attention to leaves traces in the brain, for better or worse, and sharper attention activates stronger nerve circuits. What we pay attention to becomes our experience and the sum of our experiences becomes our life. A few examples of key areas in the brain that are affected by mindfulness practice are described below.

  • Amygdala - Decreased activity and cell density - an area that reacts strongly to rapid changes in the outside world and to stressful situations and contexts that require  an emotional response. Strong activity in the amygdala often coincides with a stress response, to get us ready to "fight or flight".

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  • Insula - Increased activity and cell density - an area that is highly involved with our perception and awareness of various bodily sensations and signals.

  • Hippocampus - Increased activity and cell density - an area that is among other things involved in memory formation, concentration and learning.

  • Prefrontal lobes - Increased activity and shift from right-wing dominance to left-wing dominance - Areas that process higher cognitive functions such as planning, decision-making, goal setting, problem solving and also affect emotion regulation and compassion.

    • The right prefrontal lobe processes "negative emotions" such as fear, sadness, anger, irritation and flight. The left prefrontal lobe processes "positive emotions" such as joy, enthusiasm, interest, curiosity and happiness.

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How do you practice Mindfulness?

The transformative potential that mindfulness possesses is based on daily commitment. Mindfulness can be divided into two types of practice, formal meditation practice and informal everyday practice. Formal meditation practice means that we set aside a certain amount of time to sit, lie down, stand, walk or move while being consciously present. Informal everyday practice means that we practice being consciously present in our daily activities. To develop and deepen our mindfulness or conscious presence, both forms of practice are important. They complement as well as support each other.

Formal training or meditation training gives us the opportunity to meet ourselves and the world around us in a simplified environment. By stopping and letting go of all doing and accomplishing and taking time to just be present, we develop an understanding of how our mind works by observing how thoughts, feelings, images, bodily sensations, impulses and reactions come and go, and how they interact with each other. We learn to notice and listen to more subtle bodily signals, which gives us information about how we relate to ourselves and to the world around us, and to how we can relate to present moment.

During informal everyday practice, we focus on the present moment by paying attention to our everyday activities. Informal everyday practice is a very important part of mindfulness practice so that we can develop a deeper understanding of how we relate to ourselves and the world around us in our everyday lives.

 

During informal everyday practice, we draw attention as best we can to our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and movements, impulses and reactions in every moment, during our daily lives. In this way, we move from automatically doing and accomplishing into "doing out of being".

Doing out of being gives our mind the opportunity to rest in the present moment. It gives added value and meaning to everyday situations that otherwise easily pass us by, and we develop an ability to pay attention to and take advantage of the extraordinary within all the ordinary.

Image by Lina Trochez

Mindfulness exercises -
meditation exercises

Mindfulness meditation is not about achieving any specific experience, reaching a particular state or about accomplishing anything in particular. Mindfulness meditation is more about letting go of any "doing", achieving and expectations and instead taking a moment to just be.

Mindfulness meditation is about getting familiar with our intrinsic experience as it is in the present moment. It is about getting to know our physical, mental and emotional processes without judging, or in other words, getting to know who we already are.

Below are a couple of recorded mindfulness meditation exercises in English, for you to get started. More exercises will be added as soon as possible.

Breathing anchorJonas Lönnqvist
00:00 / 16:14

This breathing anchor is a guided mindfulness meditation with an invitation to curiously explore the ever-changing sensations of your breathing, with an attitude of acceptance, patience and letting go.

KroppsskanningJonas Lönnqvist
00:00 / 27:05

Den här kroppsskanningen än guidad meditation med en inbjudan till att och uppmärksamma och utforska kroppsdel för kroppsdel, med en intention av att odla en tillåtande, icke-värderande och vänligt nyfiken attityd till din upplevelse som den är.

Mindful Yoga - Mindfulness i rörelseJonas Lönnqvist
00:00 / 15:27

Det här är en guidad meditation i rörelse, i sittande eller i stående, med en inbjudan till att utforska såväl förnimmelser i kroppen i varje ögonblick som hur vi förhåller oss till och agerar på det som kroppen signalerar.

AndrumJonas Lönnqvist
00:00 / 06:28

Det här andrummet är en kort guidad meditation i tre steg som kan hjälpa med att finna balans och närvaro, eller ge stöd i att kunna vara med och bära upp det som är och pågår just nu, oavsett vad som är och vad som pågår. 

Sittande meditationJonas Lönnqvist
00:00 / 29:56

Det här är en guidad meditation med en inbjudan till att återknyta till det pågående ögonblicket genom att leda uppmärksamheten till andning, kropp, ljud, tankar och känslor, för att slutligen inta ett öppet uppmärksamhetsfält att vila i. 

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Mindfulness in pain and illness

Illness and pain often provoke stress reactions in themselves and often lead to unpleasant thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Mindfulness is not about curing or getting rid of illness or pain, but more about learning to meet ourselves and our needs and learn to relate to the challenges we face with more openness and honesty.

Living with health concerns easily leads us into a struggle against the circumstances that challenge us or we may feel overwhelmed by what we would rather be free from. Mindfulness in case of illness or pain can dramatically increase our quality of life and reduce our suffering, even though circumstances are not always what we want them to be.

Through mindfulness practice, we become more aware of pain as a primary experience, and learn to distinguish the experience from the secondary suffering that pain is often accompanied by. Secondary suffering is a kind of additional pain that occurs when we resist the primary unpleasant sensations and react to them mentally, emotionally and physically.

We learn through mindfulness training to relate to the pain we experience in new ways and learn to become aware of and let go of our reactions to the pain when we notice that such occurs.

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Mindfulness in anxiety and depression

The suffering we experience when emotional, spiritual and/or mental pain is present in our lives, for example in anxiety and depression have a tendency to grow and thrive when we resist and struggle to get rid of our unwanted mental and emotional experiences.

Through mindfulness practice, we can increase our awareness of our direct physical, mental and emotional experiences in the present moment and learn to consciously respond to our direct experiences as they are, without reacting to them. When learning to deal with anxiety and depression it means that we can increase our ability to become more aware of difficult thoughts and emotions as they arise, and learn to take care of them with acceptance, patience and compassion.

When we begin to make room for even difficult thoughts and feelings, instead of automatically trying to avoid or get rid of them, we get a unique opportunity to openly explore our thoughts and feelings and look at them with a new set of eyes. We find new ways to relate to what is difficult and painful and in this way it tends to lose its power over time and become less frightening.

When we feel down or challenged, it is not uncommon for us to relate critically and judgmentally to ourselves in different ways - to how we feel, think, and perhaps to how we act or not act. Such self-condemnations do not make the pain easier to bear but instead tend to increase the suffering. Through increased attention and awareness in the moment, mindfulness gives us opportunities to respond to ourselves kindly we struggle, with compassion and care.

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Mindfulness at work

Mindfulness is a long-term approach and a cost-effective strategy to strengthen resilience and mental health in the workplace. By establishing mindfulness in working life, we contribute to reducing stress and increasing well-being at both individual and also at a group level, which provides a more attractive work environment and workplace.

Mindfulness is easy to integrate and establish in working life. By establishing mindfulness at work, research shows a number of positive effects, such as:

  • Emotional balance

  • Reduced stress and increased resilience

  • Increased team spirit

  • Better communication and fewer conflicts

  • Increased productivity and fewer mistakes

  • Better decision-making and more conscious choices

  • Increased ability and personal security to handle change

  • Improved balance between work and private life

By integrating mindfulness at work, both supervisors and employees receive tools for managing and mastering the obligations and requirements that work entails and provides the tools for individuals to take responsibility for one’s own health and balance at the workplace.

Image by krakenimages