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How Mindfulness Meditation Can Support Your Overall Health

Mindful meditation practice began as a traditional Buddhist practice and is now recognized by psychotherapists as a form of cognitive behavioural therapy. It differs from most behavioural therapies in that it focuses on the experience of the present moment.

Mindfulness based meditation is the practice of bringing a non-judgemental awareness to your current experience. Mindfulness allows us to pay attention to what arises emotionally, physically and cognitively from our experience and provides a non-judgemental space for us to sit with it.

Mindfulness engages six different brain functions that contribute to the meditative state of self-awareness: Attention Regulation, Intention and Motivation, Non-Attachment and Decentering (letting go of the ego), Extinction and Reconsolidation (changing behaviours and attitudes), Emotional Regulation and Pro Social Behaviour (an increase in empathy for others.) The activity in your brain undergoes a series of changes after and during meditation, and these changes are mostly occurring in the amygdala - the part of the brain that controls your fight or flight response, and responses to emotional stimuli.

Crazy thing about the amygdala though, it's kind of like a muscle in that the less you stimulate it/use it, the smaller it will be. And in this case we don't want to use this too much because it means we're in heightened states of stress. A small amygdala can indicate better ability to remain calm in stressful moments and be mindful of not activating a stress response!

“The everyday mind runs on by itself and more often than not we are at the mercy of our immediate reactions”

The impact meditation has on emotional regulation is an aspect we find to be particularly therapeutic in patients with mood disorders (i.e anxiety and depression). Emotional regulation is defined as a person’s ability to respond to emotional experience effectively. It is a series of conscious and unconscious strategies we use to either increase, decrease or maintain different components of our emotional experience. Maladaptive emotional regulation has been shown to be a pathological component of various mental health disorders. Studies show that meditation improves emotional regulation and therefore has an impact on improving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Meditation has also been found to increase well-being, decrease stress, decrease negative emotions, decrease symptoms of anxiety and improve one's quality of life! 

There is no right or wrong way to meditate but it can be tricky to maintain the practice in the beginning. A simple way to start living more in the moment is to check in with your breath. We so often hold our breath and don’t realize that it is causing us to feel dizzy, anxious, or even dissociated from our body. Here is a simple practice that will have you feeling the instant benefit of becoming more mindful of your body!

  1. Take in a big deep breath, feel the lungs expanding
  2. When you breathe out, notice the feeling of letting go, releasing any tension in the body
  3. Take another deep breath in through your nose for a count of 3
  4. Hold for 2 and then let it out through your mouth for a count of 4

You will feel the instant benefit of becoming more mindful of your body.

References:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-courage-be-present/201001/how-practice-mindfulness-meditation

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337506/

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