(Here is a quick 3 minute introduction to walking meditation, please do not hesitate to contact Jolene if you have any questions!)
You may have heard “mindfulness” being used more and more lately. It would seem as though this is a trendy buzzword - the next new thing in the amorphous blob of the so-called “wellness” industry. And while it is gaining some traction in the mainstream, the practice of mindfulness has been around for a very, very long time. Mindfulness is an ancient practice, with its roots in Buddhism - but it is beneficial for everyone. There is no need to “convert”, it will not clash or usurp the teachings of your religion or personally held beliefs. It does not require you to pray, chant, idolize or revere anything or anyone. If you practice mindfulness meditation, you are not practicing Buddhism. To truly benefit and understand the depth and breadth of this practice, one must simply just do it. But what, exactly, are we being asked to do? In 2004, group of psychologists and mindfulness researchers (Bishop et al) proposed: “...a two-compenent model of mindfulness. The first component involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment. The second component involves adopting a particular orientation toward one's experience in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness and acceptance” Translation: To be mindful is to be aware of the experience that is the present moment. Mindfulness is relating to this experience non-judgmentally - with curiosity and kindness (aka compassion) It sounds simple, and the definition and concept certainly are. The vastness of mindfulness comes with the experiential component. But what IS it?! Here is a brief synopsis of what a “typical” session could look like... Find a comfortable yet dignified posture, meaning, you are seated in a chair, on a cushion, kneeling or even walking or lying down. Dignified means that you are not slouched, you have a feeling of resolute awareness of your body and where it is in space. Close your eyes or lower your gaze and soften your focus. Start paying attention to your breath - the sensation of the movement of air on your nostrils or the expansion and contraction of your ribcage or belly. Or passively listen to the sounds around you. (This is not mindfulness. This is paying attention to the breath - a technique called anapana) Thoughts will come into your mind. Remembering something you forgot, thinking about what you have to do, wondering why you are doing this. Become aware of these thoughts (maybe saying something like, ah! Thinking, thinking) and gently bring yourself back to paying attention to your breath. This is mindfulness. This awareness of the mind to be busy, to run around. To recognize that that is the habit of the mind and kindly return to the breath without judgement is the practice. Think of it like this: Compassionate awareness is homebase. The mind will wander off, sometimes getting lost. Mindfulness gently brings the mind back to homebase, and each time it returns, a path is established. With regular and sustained practice, the path becomes more visible and easier to find.
The image of creating a well worn path back to homebase is a metaphor for neuroplasticity, or, changing the structure of our brain based on our experiences. The concept is summarized by the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together” and means that we can actually physically develop and strengthen the parts of our brain responsible for emotional, sensory and cognitive processing as well as emotional and self-regulation when we have a consistent and sustained mindfulness practice (ie: a well-trodden path).
What's the take away? Regular practice produces actual structural changes in the brain. These changes not only impact your mood but also influence the way signals from other parts of the body, such as pain, are interpreted. Establishing “the path” by coming back to the present moment with kindness over and over and over again opens up the possibility of strengthening the “feel-good” circuitry in your brain, and this has a direct impact on your life. However, it is important to note that having an expectation of transformation or “getting rid” of the wandering mind is in direct opposition to the practice and will serve only as a barrier to an unfolding practice. It takes commitment, patience and self-compassion to begin this journey. Jolene is honoured to help guide you, provide resources and reassurance, please contact her for more information and check out her downloadable sessions coming soon!
Jolene Beilstein // Certified Massage Therapist 3605 MAIN STREET, OCCIDENTAL, CALIFORNIA 95465 707.599.0573