Mindfulness: much more than merely meditation
From going for a walk to saying thank you, you can work mindfulness into every part of your daily life.
How would you define mindfulness? It’s not straightforward. The term holds different meanings for different people, and finding agreement isn’t always easy. However, there tends to be a general understanding that awareness of yourself and your surroundings, along with a degree of intentionality to your actions, are both important. So is accepting yourself and others.
Why practice mindfulness?
Whether you’re meditating or rambling, journalling or stretching, you can be sure of one thing. Mindfulness is good for you, and for your brain.
But being mindful isn’t about stopping your thoughts, or staying silent. It’s simply about being present. Being in the here and now. Which is, admittedly, easier said than done.
But it’s worth working on (to see how to do that, follow the links in this article). As we said, mindfulness is good for you. Research suggests that it’s particularly effective combatting depression and anxiety. It can also reduce stress levels, which can have a knock-on effect on many areas of mental health (really, this is what stress can do to your brain).
So take this article as a reminder to be more mindful. Next time you pause to breathe deeply, or to jot something down in a journal, just think—you’re taking care of yourself. And that’s a good idea.
How to meditate
For many, meditation and mindfulness go hand-in-hand. And yet for many, meditation remains something of a mystery. From the outside, it can appear daunting. How can you practise what often appears to be, well, nothing?
Of course, that’s an oversimplification. There are many types of meditation, and many of them don’t require you to remain still or silent. And even if they do, there’s so much going on under the surface. We caught up with meditation coach Natalia Bojanic, who shares her secrets on how to approach it as a beginner.
Where science meets spirituality
Meditation might be having a moment in the West—and given the rising rates of stress, that’s hardly a surprise—but it’s one of the more ancient practices, dating back millennia. And like anything that’s been around that long, it’s garnered a few misconceptions along the way.
Let’s start with the most important: you don’t need to be religious to meditate. While certain types of meditation (yes, there are many types) are connected to religious beliefs, the practice itself is not. In fact, a lot of the effects of meditation have been scientifically proven.
Neuroscientist, doctor, and Heights Chief Science Officer, Dr Tara Swart, spoke to poet and spiritual teacher, Adam Martin, at a Braincare Club event to discuss these benefits, as well as some of the myths, about meditation.
Slow and steady
In general, we breathe somewhere between 12 and 20 times per minute. During a typical yoga class, that will drop to just six. This in turn tells the parasympathetic nervous system that we’re safe, and lowers our stress levels. Clearly, yoga’s reputation for tranquility is well-earned.
However, yoga isn’t necessarily practical, and can sometimes actually induce stress (if you’ve ever tried to hold the crow pose, you’ll know what we’re talking about). Using yoga breathing techniques throughout the day is a simple way to bring a little extra calm to a hectic world.
How to hack your breathing
Breathing is something we do naturally. It’s an instinct, and something we don’t need to think about. And we take a lot of breaths—somewhere between 8 and 9 million every year.
As one of the few unconscious bodily functions that you can control, your breath is enormously powerful. It can get deep into your subconscious, and break through blocked emotional energy. It can override parts of your brain and tell it that you’re safe, relieving stress. It can influence hormone production, and all the associated physiological effects. We spoke to Jamie Clements—a breathwork coach, mental health ambassador, and founder of The Breath Space—on the Braincare podcast, to find out how to harness the power of mindful breathing.
How to walk more
A free way to improve your sleep, your mental health, and your physical health? It seems too good to be true. But simply going for a walk can have all of these effects and more. Not bad.
Walking is actually one of the things that sets humans apart from other animals. Our ability to walk exceptionally long distances is unparalleled—on average, our prehistoric ancestors walked over 3000km a year. Luckily, you don’t need to go that far to reap the benefits. Shane O’Mara, who wrote In Praise of Walking: The New Science of How We Walk and Why It’s Good for Us, shared some ideas with us on how to walk a little bit further every day.
The godfather of creativity
Going for a walk can increase your creativity. In fact, research suggests that the change in activity levels is what does it, but going for a walk has so many other benefits that it’s the best example.
Ideas like this are handy in our mission to work smarter, not harder—a left-field solution to get out of that creative slump. You can even follow Steve Jobs’s example and schedule short, walking meetings (bonus—you’ll feel like you’re in an Aaron Sorkin drama).
A little gratitude goes a long way
Being grateful is one of the easiest introductions to mindfulness. All you need is fifteen minutes and something to write on. You don’t need to be grateful for specific things that happened that day—it could be something from the past. And no one will tell you that you’re grateful for something that’s too small. It could even just be whatever’s for dinner. We spoke to monk-turned-influence, Jay Shetty, about some of the ways that gratitude is good for your brain.
Your brain on journalling
Alongside walking and saying thank you, journalling is one of our favourite ways of practising mindfulness. The health benefits range from better sleep and less stress to improved fitness and healthier finances.
But what we like even more about journalling is how conducive it is to self-reflection. A journal is a space for you to observe, and to describe, without judgment. It’s a space where you can learn awareness and acceptance of yourself and your surroundings. That’s a powerful space.
Plus, there are no rules. None at all. Whatever works for you is the best way to keep a journal.
Mindfulness at Heights
As one of the key pillars of braincare, mindfulness is something we think about a lot at Heights. Alongside nutrition and exercise, it’s one of the best ways to take care of yourself. For more articles and tips about braincare, take a look at our blog, the Braincare podcast, or the Smart Supplement.