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Mastering Mindfullness

Being Mindful may be more Powerful than you think!

If you don’t go within, you go without.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s 6.10am when Amy’s alarm goes off. Rolling over in bed she grabs her phone and checks FB and her messages from overnight. Her feet sting as they touch the cold floor but she dresses quickly to get ready for her usual 6:30am training session. Listening to the news on the radio, the car finally begins to warm up just as she approaches the parking lot at the fitness centre.

Once inside Amy puts on her headphones, turns on some music and begins a grinding 60-minute session of cardio that includes the treadmill, cross-trainer and rower. By the end of her session, Amy’s heart is racing and she is sweating profusely. It’s 7:30am and Amy rushes to the change rooms for a quick shower and to change into her work clothes. She sips a coffee on the way to work and chews through a sports energy bar.

Amy arrives at work promptly at 8:15am ready for her busy day. Checking emails, responding to phone calls, a meeting at 10am and reviewing project deadlines round out her morning. At lunch Amy meets her friend for coffee and a sandwich across the road at the café. Amy proudly expresses that she isn’t just ‘busy’ right now in life, but rather, ‘incredibly busy'; a title that she has learned to wear proudly and one that has become almost a badge of honour amongst her friends.

Back at the office Amy’s afternoon begins with two hours of ‘multi-tasking’. This includes completing her bosses itinerary for an upcoming event, answering the phone, responding to queries coming in via email, checking FB and reviewing her notes for tonight’s lecture. Finally 5:30pm arrives and Amy leaves several reminders on her phone and computer for things she “must do” the following day.

The 6pm lecture begins on time and Amy grabs a coffee to help keep her mind focused on the guest speaker. An hour later she gets into her car for her final journey home and a much needed class of wine.

Dinner on the couch with her partner, a glass of wine, and Amy is finally able to put her ‘feet up’. The silence is deafening and Amy decides to turn the TV on. Amy and her partner chat while eating and watching TV and she explains how busy her day was.

Lying in bed, exhausted, Amy performs a final check of FB, work and personal emails and then tries to fall asleep.


What is Mindfulness Practice

Woman doing yogaMindfulness has been defined in many ways but is generally considered to be an ‘awareness’ of how things are in the present moment, non-judgmentally, and a clear comprehension of exactly what is taking place. Mindfulness involves the mind, body and spirit.

Quiet Your Mind

In the teachings of Buddha it’s advocated that one should establish mindfulness in one’s (day to day) life while maintaining calm awareness of one’s bodily functions, sensations, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and that of consciousness itself. Many Masters believe that the practice of mindfulness, on a daily basis, supports ‘analysis’ and therefore results in the creation of wisdom.

Mindfulness (or intention) practice is an integral part of the ‘internal arts” and includes disciplines which emphasize mental cultivation of internal energy or Qi. There are many forms of these ‘internal arts’, some more familiar than others:

  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Qigong
  • Yiquan
  • Transcendental meditation (TM)
  • Ujjayi Pranayama
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction

The Benefits

All of these internal disciplines have their fundamental goal of the cultivation and marshalling of Qi (known as Ki in Japanese or prana in India) for improved health, vitality, longevity, and at the highest levels of practice, enlightenment.

Qi = Life force, breath, universal energy, or human energy field.

The benefits of mindfulness practice have long been praised in Eastern cultures:

  • Concentrating the spirit and stabilizing the mind
  • Integrating the mind and body
  • It’s a longstanding belief that qi goes where the mind directs it. Based on this principle training the mind to focus and concentrate consciousness becomes important.
  • Assisting us to break through a lifetime of old habits, pre-programmed patterns of behaviour and reflexive responses; allowing what is essential in us, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, to naturally unfold.
  • Alleviate stagnant energy and overcome disease (healing)
  • Develops concentration, mental focus while integrating mental and physical and even spiritual or psychic energies
  • Through mindfulness practice we can allow our ‘natural’ responses to whatever life throws at us to surface. These principles are very similar to the teachings of Taoism and Zen
  • Allows us to reach human potential

He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty.
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

  • Health BenefitsDecreased reactivity to repetitive thoughts
  • Improve anxiety, depression, and reduce pain
  • Improvements in depression equal to antidepressants (SSRIs)
  • Significant improvements in visceral pain
  • Improvements in cognition, respiration, reduced cardiovascular risk, improved blood pressure and improvements in symptoms associated with Type 2 Diabetes
  • Long term participation had a positive affect on Body Mass Index
  • Reductions in chronic inflammatory markers
  • Improved cortisol regulation (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis)
  • Reduced fatigue, improved mindfulness, improvements in subjective feelings of well-being, increased intake of fruit and vegetables, decreased sleep disturbances
  • Enhanced outcomes in the treatment of addictions
  • Decreased blood pressure equal to that of regular exercise, reduced heart rate, and improved heart rate variability
  • Improvements in aerobic fitness scores
  • Reduction in falls risk equal to exercise prescription and physical therapy
  • Improves in bone mineral density and overall improved bone health
  • Improvements in the treatment of rheumatic diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
  • Enhanced cognitive function in older adults without significant brain impairment (disease)
  • Enhanced outcomes in patients with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke: Balance, coordination, and depression.
  • Enhancing the health and learning abilities of school-aged children
  • Improvements in lower back pain

One has to investigate the principle of one thing or one event exhaustively. Things in the self are governed by the same principle. If you understand one you understand the other. For the truth within and the truth without are identical.
-Er Cheng Yishu, 11th Century

How to get started (Key Points)

I have been amazed while listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast at just how many of his guests participate in mindfulness practices on a regular basis. Many of them claim that it’s an essential component to their success. (It’s worth noting that all of Tim’s guests are world-class performers in their respective fields: Actors, musicians, doctors, chess prodigies, investors, and political figures).

Both from personal experience (and clinical experience) and from reading hundreds of research papers it becomes evident that consistency and frequency of practice are critical in order to benefit from mindfulness training. As such I would recommend:

* 15 to 30 minutes per day
* 100 days in a row

Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Consistency is one important factor and developing the daily habit of mindfulness training is essential. Although some research suggests that subjects do benefit from two sessions per week of 60-90 minutes, these benefits are certainly not as significant as daily participation.. Mindfulness sessions can be as short as 15 minutes when practiced daily. In addition you may want to consider two or more longer sessions per week 45-90 minutes.

The term “Gong” in Chinese is a designated amount of time and is often allotted to perform a specific daily task. Many of the Masters of the “Internal Arts” that I have studied over the years have recommended a 100 day Gong. Their recommendation would be to practice Qigong, Tai Chi or Yiquan for 100 days straight without fail. If you miss even a single day you go back to the start and begin again. This practice:

  • Forces you to build focus and determination
  • Forces you to put yourself first each day
  • Forces you to demonstrate self-love on a daily basis
  • 100 days is habit changing

So the next step is to determine what you are most interested in trying?

  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Qigong
  • Yiquan
  • Transcendental meditation (TM)
  • Ujjayi Pranayama
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction

There are several ways to approach this. My recommendation would be to look in your local area and see what is being offered. You can then take the next step and attend classes or training to see what you like best. I would recommend six (6) classes in a row prior to deciding whether you like that particular type of practice or not.

  • Ensure the instructor is highly qualified
  • Aim for 2-3 sessions per week of 45-90 minutes
  • Decide how you can then practice on your own each day at home
    • Will you watch and follow a DVD?
    • Will you practice techniques you have learned in class?
    • Will you read books to learn techniques to practice?
    • Will you access information online?

Amazing Resources

Books & Online Media

DVDs

Articles

Online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

The Centre For Mindfulness

  • UMass Memorial Center for Mindfulness – From this website you can access online Mindfulness Training created by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and find out about courses, books and other resources.

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