What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a concept originating from Buddhist psychology 2500 years ago. In Buddhist psychology, it was believed that suffering comes from desire. Therefore, if we deal with our desire objectively with calmness and cultivate a compassionate and friendly attitude towards our desire, we can alleviate suffering and make wise choices.
Mindfulness means “awareness of present experience with acceptance”. There are three elements in the concept: “awareness”, “present”, and “acceptance”. Therefore, to be mindful is to wake up, to recognize what is happening in the present moment with a friendly attitude.
When we are mindful, our attention is not entangled in the past or future, and we are not rejecting or clinging to what is occurring at the moment. We are present in an open-hearted way. This kind of attention generates energy, clarity, and joy.
Mindfulness is a skill that allows us to be less reactive to what is happening in the moment. It is a way of relating to ALL experience---positive, negative, and neutral---such that our overall suffering diminishes and our sense of well-being increases. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be cultivated by anyone. To possess this skill, we need to learn and practice how to bring attention to the present and how to accept our feelings with compassion.
Put out a fire--- Mindfulness helps us to break the addiction loop
Although we know addictive behaviors are significantly affecting the mental, physical, and economic health of individuals and their families, why can’t people just stub out that cigarette or put down the bottle?
There is a primitive addiction loop that has been observed in both animal and human studies. Addiction behavior, such as smoking, drinking or drug use, becomes associated with positive (happy or relaxed) and negative (stressed out) affects through positive or negative reinforcement loops; Cues that trigger these effects lead to cue-induced craving, which becomes automated over time through repetition. The cycle goes on and on with a fire of craving that perpetuates it without an end. Conventional addiction therapy teaches patients to avoid trigger cues or substitute other activities for smoking, drinking or taking drugs. Avoidance and substitution likely treat around the core addictive loop rather than removing the craving fire itself, so it leaves patients vulnerable to relapse.
Physical addiction treatments, such as prescription drugs, nicotine replacement treatments, or the most natural and effective soft laser auriculotherapy treatments, target the craving itself and reduce or quench the fire. However, the triggers from daily life remain after the treatment is over. Relapse is still a threat.
To become a real non-smoker or non-addict, the only way is to train your brain to deal with the craving correctly. In mindfulness practice, we learn to be aware of and be present with the craving with calmness and self-compassion, without feeding the fire by indulging in the addictive behavior. Learning to surf with the craving and waiting for it to subside patiently is the way to cut the addiction loop and put out the fire for good.
Mindfulness and anxiety
Anxiety and fear are natural human responses to dangerous situations. The adrenaline-fueled fight-or-flight response allows us to escape immediate danger. However, the same panicky sensations can arise in the absence of a true threat, elicited by the memory of a past event or an imagined future peril. In this case, our biological predisposition to avoid danger and seek safety becomes a condition called anxiety disorder.
Interestingly, research found out that experiencing anxiety or fear, such as sensations of panic, worrisome thoughts, catastrophic images, recurrent painful memories does not cause an anxiety disorder. Instead, it is our reactions to these symptoms, or our fear to these symptoms, that exacerbates their intensity and duration, causes distress, and affects the quality of our lives.
Mindfulness practice grants us the capability of being aware of present feelings with friendly acceptance. Once you are capable of being with your fear and without trying to avoid it, you break the vicious cycle and stop the fear from fueling itself up. Current research has proven that mindfulness practice is as effective as anti-anxiolytic prescription drugs.
Mindfulness and stress control
Stress is part of our daily life. It can be waiting in line in a traffic jam on the way to work, facing a deadline of a project, taking an exam at school, preparing a public speech at a meeting, or having an uncomfortable conversation. When we are stressful, the heart rate goes up, the muscles become tense, the body temperature and blood pressure go up, the function of digestive system and immune system are suppressed. Stress is not just a psychological issue; it involves both our mind and body. A stress signal is sent down from the brain, through the nervous and endocrine system to the body and reflected in these physiological reactions. If we are constantly under stressful conditions, the functions of our cardio-vascular system, endocrine system, digestive system, immune system will be compromised. Especially, if we are involved in unhealthy stress coping methods, such as smoking, addictive drugs consumption, or over-eating, the damages to our health will become even more drastic.
To reduce the stress level in our daily life, the first step is to be aware of our reactions to stress, physically and mentally. When we know we are stressful, we may choose a right way to respond to it. Then, we may bring our attention to present moment, in order to eliminate subsequent stress caused by ruminating the past or worrying about the future. Lastly, we can decide the type of relationship we have with our stress feelings. When we develop acceptance and friendly attitude towards our stress, calmness occurs. Now we are talking about mindfulness! Yes, it is this moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness that brings in calmness and control to stress.
Numerous researches in neuroscience have proven mindfulness practice effectively reduces stress level and promote optimal mental and physical health. For example, a study in year 2003 by Dr. Richard Davidson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (University of Massachusetts Medical School) revealed that an 8-week Mindfulness base stress reduction program increases the activity of the left frontal area of the brain, which is associated with positive affect and emotion regulation. More interestingly, at the end of the 8-week program, all participants were given a flu vaccination. Those who meditated had significant increase in antibodies compared to the control group, suggesting that meditation can help boost the immune response.
Neuroscience discoveries of Mindfulness practice
It has been proven that mindfulness meditation practice promoted myriad benefits as the meditators claimed: it improves their mood, their emotion regulation capacity, and their ability to handle stress. You may ask: is there any solid scientific evidence for these claims? Will the benefits last?
Actually, there are plenty! Serval functional or structural brain MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies discovered that long time meditators have increased gray matters (neurons and their connections) in three brain areas: 1) anterior insula and sensory cortex, which are involved in observing internal and external physical sensations (Brefczynski-Lewis er al., 2007); 2) frontal cortex, which is an area devoted to decision making and cognitive processing; 3) hippocampus, which plays a central role in memory and emotional regulation, and has important implications for certain psychological conditions such as depression and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
You may wonder if only long-term practice will lead to positive lasting changes as mentioned above. Luckily, studies (Hölzel et al., 2010) found out that even a few weeks practice, such as the 8-week MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) program, can bring significant positive changes to brain function and even structure. After 8-weeks MBSR practice, the gray matter in hippocampus of the participants increased significantly compared to that of the control group. Interestingly, the same study found a decrease in gray matter density in a very important brain structure called amygdala. Amygdala plays an important role in emotional arousal and mediating physiological responses to threats. The greater the decrease in a participant’s stress levels following MBSR, the less dense the amygdala was. Therefore, mindfulness meditation practice makes positive and lasting changes to our brain.
What is being offered in the Stop Centres?
At the Stop Centres, we have well trained mindfulness meditation trainers. They are part of our multidisciplinary team. Together with our laser therapy and life coaching, mindfulness practice can be integrated into any of our treatment programs and we offer you individual programs adapted to your specific needs. Also, we offer highly structured 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program alone in group setting.