Mindfulness. We’ve all heard of it, but what is it?
Written by elénzia's Nutrition Manager, Christie Newman
You may have heard it is about being present in the moment - and quite rightly so, it is. However, being present in the moment can be hard to master and often why we associate being able to meditate with being able to practise mindfulness. But there are other ways to observe mindfulness such as nutrition, appreciation and reflection, all of which can have a positive impact on your lifestyle. In this blog we will be exploring these three key aspects and how they can help you achieve mindfulness.
When we meditate, we control our thoughts which allows us to align our emotions and generate positive feelings. This translates to enhanced mental clarity, the promotion of upbeat energy and therefore the ability to appreciate the present moment you are in. This controlling of thoughts has shown to increase thought capacity and boost your personal productivity. So, given today’s non-stop lifestyle and working through the new norm - such as suddenly working from your spare bedroom or home-schooling, or even both - this is probably why mindfulness is a hot topic.
The best way to appreciate the power of mindfulness and benefit from the positive impact it can have on your overall health, is to practise meditation. However if like me, you might have tried this repeatedly and found that it is not as easy as breathing in and out for 5. After many attempts at controlling my thoughts and much research on what it means to be mindful, I’ve found these three key tips are useful.
1. Nutrients to nourish the mind
Meditating is harder than it looks as you have to take control over your mind, be rid of all distractions, and organise your thoughts. But as humans we are thinkers and we have what is referred to by the app Calm, an active monkey mind, with our thoughts jumping around like a monkey from tree to tree. They hardly sit still for a moment. Even when we sleep, we are thinking through our dreams and are not able to control them. Therefore, trying to align our thought process is us trying to align a psychological function which has a natural tendency to be sporadic and for this, we need all the help we can get, starting with healthy brain function.
‘Healthy brain, healthy mind’
What I have come to learn is that mindfulness is biological as much as it is a psychological. A healthy balanced mind relies on a healthy balanced brain. For example, to be present your mind must be active, engaged and focused and therefore your brain must be energised, nourished and hydrated. This is because the biological side of mindfulness starts with the interconnected neurological processes that are consistently occurring simultaneously and therefore, fueling the psychological thought processes.
Stop and think back to the paragraph above which began with the words “for example” – whether you read it out loud or in your head you used areas which neurologists call the new brain. In particular, you used your hippocampus which is responsible for remembering language and translating what it means, combined with the frontal lobe area. This frontal lobe area heightened your senses to be ready to receive my example to help you understand more on the subject of mindfulness. These two areas specifically utilise particular nutrient compounds such as choline, resveratrol, quercetin, flavanols and B vitamins.
Clinical research into the strengthening of the cellular connections in the hippocampus and the frontal lobe area found supplementation and diets high in these nutrients significantly supported their functions. Participants demonstrated increased memory and learning skills and the ability to focus and sustain attention through increased brain energy. As for hydration and rest, the brain makes up on average 2% of the body’s weight yet utilises 20%of its energy when resting and is technically 73% water.
In simple terms, for the mind’s complex psychological functions to sufficiently work, the biological connections i.e. the brain’s billions of neurons that transfer chemical containing messages known as neurotransmitters to flow, means it requires specific nutritional compounds, sufficient water and rest to support them. So, when psychologists say, ‘the mind is what the brain does’, it’s the equivalent of nutritionists saying, ‘you are what eat’.
2. Appreciating the moment you are in
I have mentioned how personally I find it hard to meditate. You might find it easy and if you do congratulations. However, if you’re finding getting to grips with being present in the moment is harder than it sounds, try this.
Think back to when you were last doing something new and exciting - like travelling to a new area of the world or playing a new sport - and notice you paid close attention. You took it all in. You savoured every detail. This is being mindful without you even knowing it.
The problem is we cannot be as adventurous as this every day. In our everyday lives we often go about mundane and repetitive tasks which are required for us to do our jobs. We know everything there is to know about the task at hand, so naturally we start to get a bit mindless about it. We don’t pay as much attention and our mind wanders off. But if you apply the very simple process of noticing new things about your daily mundane repetitive tasks, you can actually gain an appreciation for the activity.
In a study conducted by researcher Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, she specifically asked people to do tasks they had previously described as distasteful. People who hated rap music listened to it, people who found football boring watched it, and people who had no appreciation for art were shown paintings. In each case, they did this mindlessly or mindfully. Those in the mindless groups just did the activity, the others were instructed to notice one, three, or six new things about it. The findings were clear: the more they noticed, the more they liked it.
“Mindfulness does not depend on meditation: it is the very simple process of noticing new things, which puts us in the present and makes us more sensitive to context and perspective. It is the essence of engagement.” (Ellen Langer, PhD)
So, looking for the ‘new’ in the everyday task can put you in the present moment and make you more sensitive to situation and appreciate the moment you are in.
3. 7 things mindful people do differently
From the biological psychological connection to the thought that mindfulness isn’t that much harder than mindlessness, my last tip for making your days more mindful is the 7 Things Mindful People Do Differently written by Elisha Goldstein PhD psychologist and author of The Now Effect.
1. Approach every day with curiosity and savour them.
Whatever you do, do it with curiosity. Pause and reflect and savour the moment.
2. Forgive their mistakes, big or small.
See failing as an opportunity for learning.
3. Show gratitude for good moments and grace for bad ones.
By holding your emotions lightly, you appreciate they come and go, good or bad.
4. Practise compassion and nurture connection.
By paying attention to difficult emotions, we become less afraid of them.
5. Make peace with imperfection - inside and out
To be imperfect is to be human and the imperfections that arise become less of a struggle and instead a source of recognising the common humanity of all people.
6. Embrace vulnerability by trusting others and themselves
From embracing vulnerability, we develop courage, trust and connection.
7. Accept – and appreciate – that things come and go
Nothing is permanent. All things come and go, it’s about how you appreciate them that is important.
(Elisha Goldstein, Psychologist and author of the ‘The Now Effect’)
In summary I have learnt that mindfulness relies on healthy brain function as much as it does controlled breathing. Out of all the books, podcasts, apps, and classes on how to be mindful, I have noticed one underlying theme that resonates deep in their overall message about what it means to be mindful - and it is consciously choosing to direct your energy towards positive emotions which requires you to control and direct your thoughts, and like the author Hari Poonja says in his book, The truth is
The ocean doesn’t complain about the dance of ten million waves; so don’t be concerned with the rise and fall of thoughts’
Take these three key tips on practising mindfulness and remember, a healthy mind starts with a healthy brain and that all this starts with a healthy balanced lifestyle.