Get this- Neuroscience research has shown that staying in the moment, and being mindful changes the way your brain functions. It changes and improves the way we experience ourselves in the world. It is not just mumbo-jumbo! Generally, we spend a lot of our day in the personal narrative of our life. We obsess about the future, we dwell on that conversation we had last week, or last year, and we remain entrenched in the storyline of our life. Researchers call this the “default network” and it’s dominated by cortical midline structures (CMS). While this “default network” has its benefit, when we spend too much time in self-referential thinking, especially if we are caught up in negative thinking, it can lead to poor emotional and behavioral outcomes, including depression and anxiety.
Mindfulness practice is about attending to the present moment. It teaches us to notice how the body feels, right now, paying attention to the breath and observing, without grasping onto our current state of mind. By definition, mindfulness moves us away from our personal narrative about how our life should be and into how life actually is, moment to moment.
A current study done in 2011, MR images were take of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind — participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images were also taken of a control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval.
Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety, stress and the flight or flight response. Decreased grey-matter in the amygdala does not negatively impact the fight or flight response. If you get chased by a bear you will still be afraid and want to run away. The decreased grey-matter helps you lower the stress and anxiety levels faster after a stressful situation, say getting chased by a bear or getting in trouble with your boss at work. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.
Another study shows that through mindfulness practice, activity in the CMS (cortical midline structures), the part of the brain related to our personal narrative decreased, and activity in the insula, the part of the brain related to subjective awareness and body awareness, increased.
How to live in the moment:
Pay attention to the small things. Your hair blowing in the wind. Your feet in the sand. The sun on your face. A hug from someone you care about. Tune into the sights and sounds and awaken your senses to the world around you
Focus on the NOW. Make an effort to focus on where you are right now. On a hike listen to the stream flowing, the trees blowing in the breeze, the ground beneath your feet, feel your feet in your shoes.
Smile. Making an emotional face can influence how you feel. Smiling will make you happier and help you appreciate the moment.
Be Kind. Perform random acts of kindness for other people. Make sure they are random and spontaneous.
Don’t obsess about the future. Obsessing about what might or might not happen next won’t change tomorrow. Worrying takes you out of the moment and transports you into a realm of future unknown possibilities. Our moments on earth move quickly. Don’t miss them.
Do one thing at a time. Zen proverb: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” Multitasking will take you away from the moment. Live with intention, and focus on one action at a time.
Live life slowly. Don’t do so much! Don’t rush through your tasks. Make time for your priorities.
When talking to someone be present. Focus listening to every word that person is saying. Don’t worry about what you should say next.
Join a yoga class. Or just stop for 10 minutes each day and become aware of your thoughts. Focus on your breathing. Notice the world around you. Become comfortable with the silence and stillness.
Be confident with who you are. Don’t doubt what you just said. Don’t doubt your abilities. Don’t worry about what people will think of you. Confidence in yourself shines through very strongly.
Have some reckless abandon. Sometimes you just have to live your life without fear or regard for consequences. Just go with the flow. If it feels good, and if it feels right, go with it. The Dalai Lama, the renowned Buddist monk says, “Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon“
[…] Mindfulness practice is about attending to the present moment. It teaches us to notice how the body feels, right now, paying attention to the breath and observing, without grasping onto our current state of mind. By definition, mindfulness moves us away from our personal narrative about how our life should be and into how life actually is, moment to moment. […]