Reasons and ways to be mindful
Mindfulness and meditation seem to be discussed a lot these days, but some people are still unsure as to why it is effective and ways to do it. This has the ability to go a long way down the rabbit hole when discussing nervous and different body system intertwinement. I will do my best.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work congruently to keep you alive and functioning properly. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the “fight or flight” system that tells your body to speed up and react fast in order to handle stress. This is meant to be a temporary system to run from bears and dodge punches, though in our current society, the SNS seems to be on much more than necessary. The overuse of the SNS keeps your body connected with the amygdala and increased level of cortisol. The amygdala is the area in the middle of the brain that manages emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation. An overactive amygdala that appears when increased blood and chemical flow occurs during SNS activation, has been shown to reduce short term memory, be correlated to anxiety and anxiety disorders, increased fear response that often presents as anger in a nonemergent situation, and decreased ability to manage emotions on a regular basis. Cortisol is amazing in short bursts to assist us in managing stress but when it stays elevated in our body it can lead to chronic feeling of fatigue, increased carb cravings, suppressed immunity, and reduced ability to handle any new stressors. The list for a taxed amygdala and increased cortisol levels are abbreviated and it could be beneficial for you to do some more research if any of it is resonating with you.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the “rest and digest” system that tells your body to chill out and enjoy your surroundings. The PNS is there to calm the body and brain back to baseline after an SNS spike. Where the SNS is built to keep you alive in an emergency, the PNS is present to keep your body functioning at optimal levels long term and maintaining homeostasis (desire balance). The PNS slows heart rate, improves digestion and elimination, increases total blood flow in body and brain, balances hormone levels, boosts positive and neutral thinking, allows for creative problem solving, and improves emotion management.
What is being Mindful?
Mindfulness is simply a state of nonreactive awareness of your mind, body, and your body in its environment. This can be achieved naturally and without effort, or through use of a purposeful practice. Have you ever been in “the zone”? Most things fade into the background, senses seem relaxed and heightened, complete focus, and emotions seem dulled or not present. This is most talked about in sports but is also felt when cooking, knitting, walking or running in nature, and coloring. “The zone” is a mindfulness practice that your brain seemed to have slipped into by itself. That flow is something you can intentionally accomplish through a mindfulness activity like counted breathing, guided meditation, or yoga. Mindfulness practices work directly with the PNS to calm your brain by reducing blood flow to amygdala and increases blood flow to frontal and temporal lobes, and relax your body through increased overall circulation and dopamine present in the brain, thus giving yourself the boost needed to remain flexibly with whatever comes at you mentally or physically. Mindfulness practice is you choosing to bring balance to your mind and body. Recovery is as important as the work.
Types of Mindfulness Activities
There are a ridiculous amount of mindfulness activities out there once you start looking into them, though you may have some effective ones already on standby, I’m going to throw some easy ones out there.
Yoga – Yoga is mindfulness that attempts to connect your body and mind through breath and movement. There are so many styles of yoga that range from strict posture and routine to flowing with inversions and balances to weights and core to relaxed and stretchy.
We have yoga on Sundays at the gym.
There are several yoga studios in the area and some gyms offer it as well.
YouTube has free videos.
Amazon Prime has free videos (but are they really free if you’re paying for membership, who knows).
There are an exorbitant amount of DVDs available for purchase.Mindfulness and meditation apps and websites – typically guided meditation that lasts from 1 minute to 60 minutes. Some apps have you do a check in before the meditation and another check after. Some apps have music only and allow you to customize what you hear.
Insight timer – downloaded app that you can choose from guided meditations, music only, or silence.
Breathe – downloaded app that starts you off with a check in then suggests guided meditations to choose from, and follows up with a check out to see if there was any change mentally or physically.
Breathe – app on apple watch that guides you through 3-5 breaths for a quick mindfulness activity.
Smiling mind – downloaded app that is guided meditation.
Mindfulness bell – website http://awakeningbell.org/ that uses a bell to help prepare you for mindfulness or meditation. Another option is to listen the long bell with eyes closed and stay focused on it until you can’t hear it anymore. Immediate focus.
Mind Yeti – downloaded app and website that is guided meditation geared toward children.
Counted breathing – mindfulness activity that engages the frontal lobe (thinking brain) and the PNS for a nice double whammy. This is an activity where you count each inhale and exhale until you reach 10. In -> 1 Out -> 2, In -> 3 Out -> 4…Out -> 10 More challenging is to add letters. In -> 1 Out -> A, In -> 2 Out -> B…Out -> J
Mindful eating – mindfulness activity where you are completely and nonjudgementally aware of your food. Noticing the smell, temperature, color, shape before you put it in your mouth. Once it is in your mouth notice texture, taste, and amount of chews. The activity makes you slow down your eating process completely and engages your whole brain to identify each sensation received. Be aware of any memories that may pop up.
Coloring – there are a mess of mindful coloring books and tons you can print online. Breathing and delving into perfect colors for the picture you chose is a mindfulness activity for all ages.
ZenTangle – is a mindfulness activity that requires a small (4×4) piece of paper and sharp pencil or fine tipped pen. Place a dot in each corner then connect the dots with a line to frame the page. Make a line diagonally across the paper to create an X. You will set a timer for 1-2 minutes. During the 1-2 minutes you will draw only 1 thing that you’ve chosen (heart, flower, water drop, letter, number, etc…) without erasing, talking, judging quality, or stopping even if area is filled. You can vary size or direction. Continue activity until all 4 triangles are completed.
Angela Anderson (CF7C Yoga Instructor)