Optimising the Nervous System Part 4: Quieting the Mind
In part four of "Optimising the Nervous System to Increase Productivity and Decrease Stress" we are introducing mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation can help to wind-down an overactive sympathetic nervous system, preventing the fight-flight-freeze stress response that can happen when we're under pressure.
Research has indicated that mindfulness leads to increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest system), providing a restorative relaxation response.
Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool to restore balance to the nervous system, and to improve our physical and mental health.
How Does Stress Effect The Nervous System?
The brain is a target for stress and stress-related hormones. It undergoes functional and structural changes in response to stress in a manner that is adaptive under normal circumstances, but can lead to damage when we are too stressed, for too long.
This occurs because of neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to change in response to stimuli and experience. The brain adapts based on it's needs - neurons that fire together, wire together.
Constantly stressed? Not taking time out? Wondering what effect this has on your brain?
Evidence suggests that stress-induced brain plasticity is prominent in the:
- prefrontal cortex (the area for new and goal-directed patterns of behavior, memory, intelligence, attention)
- hippocampus (memory, learning and emotion)
- amygdala and other areas associated with fear-related memories and self-regulatory behaviours.
The interactions between these brain regions determine whether life experiences lead to impaired functioning or flourishing mental and physical health.
What Is Mindfulness?
Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn recruited chronically ill patients not responding well to traditional treatments to participate in his newly formed eight-week stress-reduction program. This was undertaken at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and was the beginning of what we now call Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
Since 1979 research has grown exponentially, showing how mindfulness-based interventions improve mental and physical health.
Mindfulness is about maintaining moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance. It's paying attention to thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. "I shouldn't be feeling this way" does not serve us well.
When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than preparing for the future or ruminating about the past.
Studies show that practicing mindfulness leads to structural as well as functional changes in the brain as measured by MRI’s and electroencephalograms (EEG).
The systems in the brain that support our well-being are intimately connected to different organ systems in our body, and also connected to the immune and endocrine systems in ways that matter for our health.
Thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness meditation:
- it boosts the immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
- it increases positive emotions and reduces negative emotions and stress.
- it alters the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- it helps to tune out distractions, improving focus, memory and attention skills.
- it increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. It can boost self-compassion as well, making us less critical of our self and others.
- it makes couples more satisfied with their relationship. They feel more optimistic and relaxed, and it makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another.
- parents who practice mindfulness report being happier with their parenting skills and their kids were found to have better social skills.
- mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems and aggression among students, and improves their happiness levels and ability to pay attention.
- teachers trained in mindfulness show lower blood pressure, less negative emotion and symptoms of depression, and greater compassion and empathy.
- health care professionals practicing mindfulness meditation cope with stress, connect with their patients, and improve their general quality of life.
- it can reduce the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of war.
- practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, helps people lose weight, and helps them savor the food they do eat.
Practicing this guided mindfulness meditation regularly can give you the benefits listed above. This meditation focuses on sound and the breath.
Our Weekend Retreat is on 8th and 9th of April at Highfield Historic Site.
If you would like to join us for a weekend to replenish your body and soul, click below: